RBS executives came under fire from the company's shareholders over the proposed closure of 162 branches in England and Wales as bosses gathered for the bank's AGM.

The earmarked closures add to the 259 branches designated to be permanently shut last autumn.

Chairman Howard Davies blamed the latest round of closures on the company's competition responsibilities linked to its £45 billion government bailout during the financial crisis.

Chief executive Ross McEwan added that he was "well aware of the issues" for communities and vulnerable customers, but said the take-up of digital banking had been "much more dramatic than I would have expected."

Mr McEwan told ITV News: "Let's just deal with the issue, customers are changing the way they behave and a bank like us needs to respond to that. And that's all we're talking about."

He was interrupted by an angry shareholder and "aggrieved ex customer" Clive Murray who described the AGM as an "absolute disgrace".

There is also speculation that the government could very soon sell off as much as 10% of its 70.5% stake in RBS, having last year confirmed plans to offload £15 billion worth of shares by 2023.

However, outgoing finance chief Ewen Stevenson said the recent slump in European stocks - sparked in part by jitters over the rise of Eurosceptic parties in Italy - might be a cause for pause.

The government is already facing a near £26.2 billion loss on its holding, with the lender's shares languishing well below the average 502p share price paid during the crisis era bailout, at around 276p.

The bank unexpectedly issued a market update on Wednesday to announce Mr Stevenson's resignation just hours before the annual general meeting, saying he was set to "take up an opportunity elsewhere".