Belfast Telegraph

Bank chief moves to ease fears on branch closures

MARGARET CANNING

FURTHER branch closures by Ulster Bank in 2013 and next year will be "in the single figures", the boss of the bank in Northern Ireland has said.

Ellvena Graham was giving evidence to the Assembly's enterprise and finance committees yesterday, the week after an investors' briefing by the bank in London caused panic over job losses and branch closures.

Investors had been told 1,800 jobs would go across Ireland as the bank, which made a £1bn loss in 2012, aims to get back into the black by 2016.

But they were not informed that around 950 of those redundancies had already been announced around 18 months earlier.

They were told that between 50 and 60 branches would be shut by the end of next year – but it was not made clear that 22 of those closures had already taken place.

Ms Graham told MLAs: "At the outset, I would like to apologise to customers and staff to whom we caused unnecessary concern last week following initial reports of further job losses and branch closures. That should not have happened."

She said that seven branches and four sub-offices had been closed by Ulster Bank by June this year but said other banks were also shutting branches.

With 79 branches, she said it remained Northern Ireland's biggest bank but said that, given the growing popularity of telephone, mobile and internet banking – with 15% of transactions now being done by mobile – those 79 branches were "too many".

But she could not say how many would be an acceptable number despite the questioning of SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Pasty McGlone, the chairman of the enterprise committee.

"You know you have too many but you can't share with me how many is too many," he said.

She said: "I have said single figures and I would stand over that."

Ms Graham yesterday confirmed that departing temporary staff would be included in the bank's target to reduce numbers Ireland-wide by between 1,300 and 1,800 by 2016.

Finance committee chairman, Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay, said businesses in his North Antrim constituency had felt abused by the bank, and claimed they were forced to sell assets by Ulster Bank's so-called bad bank, the global restructuring group.

Belfast Telegraph

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