Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has unveiled plans to cut 680 jobs after announcing it will close 259 branches across the country in a bid to cut costs.

The FTSE 100-listed lender said on Friday (1 December) that the closures will affect both the RBS and NatWest brands, with 62 branches of the former and 197 of the latter set to be permanently shut.

The closures means the bank, which is still 71% owned by the taxpayers, will slash its current branch network by approximately a quarter. In March, the lender closed 158 branches across its network, leading to over 350 jobs being lost.

RBS said the decision had been motivated by the increasing popularity of online banking, adding the number of customers using its branches had declined by 40% over the last three years.

"More and more of our customers are choosing to do their everyday banking online or on mobile," an RBS spokesperson said.

"Since 2014 the number of customers using our branches across the UK has fallen by 40% and mobile transactions have increased by 73% over the same period. Over 5 million customers now use our mobile banking app and one in five only bank with us digitally.

"We realise this is difficult news for our colleagues and we are doing everything we can to support those affected."

However, the Unite union described the cuts as "savage", suggesting the number of positions to be cut will be closer to 1,000 instead.

"The Royal Bank of Scotland has decided to decimate its bank branch network," said Rob MacGregor, Unite national officer.

"Now serious questions need to be asked about whether these closures mark the end of branch network banking. This announcement will forever change the face of banking in this country resulting in over a thousand staff losing their jobs and hundreds of high streets without any banking facilities."

Earlier this week, RBS passed the Bank of England's stress test, after failing 12 months ago. When it reports results in February, it is expected to reveal that it has incurred in full-year losses for the 10th consecutive year since it was bailed out.

Meanwhile in last week's Budget, the Government revealed plans to sell down its stake in the lender, although it would do so at a loss as it aims to sell £15bn of its shares by 2023. MacGregor questioned why the Government had given the green light to the plans.

Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Government Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, said the news was extremely concerning.

"The news of further branch closures from RBS will be hugely concerning to many people in Scotland as it now not only affects, potentially, staff at RBS but also leaves large areas of Scotland, particularly rural areas, with limited branch coverage," he explained.

"While recognising that footfall in branches is falling, due to online banking, RBS, and other banks, must take into account the needs of all customers - not just those who can access and use digital services."

The news comes only two days after Lloyds Banking Group and Yorkshire Building Society also announced plans to shrink their network of branches. The former, which returned to private ownership earlier this year after the 2008 bailout, will close 49 branches across its Halifax, Bank of Scotland and Lloyds brands, with 99 jobs set to go.

Yorkshire Building Society, meanwhile, will close 13 of its branches, leading to the loss of approximately 250 jobs.