24 Ulster Bank branches to close
Twenty-four Ulster Bank branches across Ireland are to close early next year as consumer champions warned large areas risked becoming "financially forgotten".
Ten offices in counties Antrim, Down, Tyrone and Derry will shut but no staff in Northern Ireland are likely to be made redundant, a spokesman for the business said. Another 14 will go in the Republic - with a number of voluntary job losses expected.
Services are moving in February and March to nearby offices amid declining numbers using the properties in favour of the internet.
Consumer Council spokeswoman Rachael Cray said: "We must consider how local communities, especially rural communities, can be supported to access financial services and ensure large parts of Northern Ireland do not become 'financially forgotten'."
A bank spokesman said in Northern Ireland only 14% of transactions happened in branches.
Stephen Cruise, head of branch banking, said: "Closing a branch is never an easy decision and one we do not take lightly.
"We continue to invest in a range of banking channels to improve access to our services such as our Bank on Wheels and our commitment to extend our services available through the Post Office this year.
"Ulster Bank still retains the largest branch network in Northern Ireland."
He said there were no plans for further closures next year.
"Banking has changed significantly over the last few years as more and more of our customers are using digital technology to bank with us where and when it is convenient for them," Mr Cruise said.
Customers can check balances, withdraw cash and pay bills at 480 Post Office branches across Northern Ireland.
The bank will also be extending the services available through the Post Office to include cash and cheque deposit from December 1.
The Ulster Bank's Bank on Wheels scheme launched earlier this year as a first in Northern Ireland and is operating in parts of County Down (Carryduff Shopping Centre and Main Street, Saintfield).
Ms Cray, head of money affairs at the Consumer Council in Northern Ireland, expressed disappointment at the closures news.
"This announcement means by next February, Northern Ireland's big four banks will have closed 77 branches in the last four years (31% of the bank branch network).
"We are particularly concerned about the impact this Ulster Bank decision will have on its customers and businesses in the areas affected.
"The majority of the closing branches are in rural communities where Ulster Bank has been the only bank or is the last bank in town.
"Despite an increase in online banking, our research shows that bank customers still want access to local services with 68 per cent of consumers surveyed saying they had visited a bank branch at least once in the last month.
"Ulster Bank must be aware that many of its customers are not online or don't have the confidence or ability to use telephone, online or smart phone banking."
She called on the Executive and the banking industry to consider a wider, more strategic approach to bank closures, rather than simply reacting to individual closures.
The following branches will close in February:
:: Dundonald with services moving to the Kings Road
:: Newcastle with services moving to Castlewellan
:: Portstewart with services moving to Portrush
:: Tandragee with services moving to Portadown
:: Aughnacloy with services moving to Clogher
:: Donaghadee with services moving to Bangor
:: Gortin with services moving to Omagh
:: Newtownhamilton with services moving to Newry
:: Randalstown with services moving to Antrim
:: Crumlin Road with services moving to the Belfast City branch
Branches in the Republic will close in March:
:: Athboy, County Meath, with services moving to Trim
:: Ballinrobe, County Mayo, with services moving to Castlebar
:: Ashbourne, County Meath, with services moving to Swords
:: Athy, County Kildare, with services moving to Carlow
:: Castleblaney, County Monaghan, with services moving to Monaghan
:: Castlerea, County Roscommon, with services moving to Roscommon
:: Clones, County Monaghan, with services moving to Monaghan
:: Croom, County Limerick, with services moving to Dooradoyle
:: Ferbane, County Offaly, with services moving to Athlone
:: Loughrea, County Galway, with services moving to Athenry
:: Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, with services moving to Sligo
:: Moville, County Donegal, with services moving to Buncrana
:: Roscrea, County Tipperary, with services moving to Nenagh
:: Wicklow, with services moving to Bray