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Ten more Ulster Bank branches shut

Fears for rural customers as Ulster Bank reveals cutbacks

By Clare Weir

Rural banking customers face more misery in the New Year as Ulster Bank prepares to pull down the shutters on another 10 branches.

The Consumer Council said that by next February, Northern Ireland's big four banks will have closed 77 branches in the last four years, representing over 30% of the bank branch network.

While Ulster Bank says that no jobs will be lost, the closures will bring the total number of its branches down from 74 to 64 by February 2015.

The next largest bank in Northern Ireland is Danske Bank, with 49 branches.

The bad news came just a day after Ulster Bank's parent company was slapped with the biggest ever fine handed down by the regulator following a computer glitch in 2012.

The Financial Conduct Authority and the Bank of England's Prudential Regulator Authority issued the Royal Bank of Scotland, which owns Ulster Bank, with a fine of £56m for the IT meltdown two years ago.

While Ulster Bank said that only 14% of transactions were now carried out in branches in Northern Ireland, Rachael Cray, head of money affairs at the Consumer Council, said that she was particularly worried about the impact on rural communities where, in some places, 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 more than two in three (68%) consumers surveyed saying they had visited a bank branch at least once in the last month," she said.

She added: "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 smartphone banking."

Ms Cray said that bank customers who did not feel comfortable with telephone or online banking could visit the post office or a different branch to lodge cash and cheques, to check balances and pay their bills.

Stephen Cruise, Ulster Bank head of branch banking in Northern Ireland, said that there were no further plans to reduce locations for the rest of 2015.

"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.

He said that alternatives, including a 'bank on wheels' and an extension of services through the post office would be used in some of the affected areas.

He added: "We are writing to customers of these branches to inform them of alternative branch locations in their area and the range of banking services available."

The following branches will close at the end of February 2015:

Dundonald with services moving to the Kingsroad branch

Newcastle with services moving to the Castlewellan branch

Portstewart with services moving to the Portrush branch

Tandragee with services moving to the Portadown branch

Aughnacloy with services moving to the Clogher branch

Donaghadee with services moving to the Bangor branch

Gortin with services moving to the Omagh branch

Newtownhamilton with services moving to the Newry branch

Randalstown with services moving to the Antrim branch

Crumlin Road with services moving to the Belfast City Office branch

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