Belfast Telegraph

Fears for future of First Trust branches in Northern Ireland

By John Mulgrew

There are fears First Trust could shut branches across Northern Ireland as part of a review of its banking operations here, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

An internal bank memo says it will “assess and determine the optimal branch footprint” for its business here.

And the Financial Services Union (FSU) says it is “concerned about the implications the review will have for both staff, customers and branches”.

First Trust has cut its branch numbers to 30 across Northern Ireland, and reduced its headcount from around 1,200 to 700 staff.

And it’s understood the FSU has written to its members, addressing its concerns over what the review could mean for staff.

In a letter to members, it says Brendan O’Connor, managing director of First Trust’s parent company AIB Group (UK), held a conference call with its committee where he “outlined how he and his leadership team intended to review the future structure of First Trust bank over the coming months”.

It says “management will engage with the union to agree how best to implement the recommendations of the review”.

It comes after First Trust’s boss in Northern Ireland, Des Moore, said he couldn’t rule out further branch closures here.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph in January, he said: “You couldn’t (rule it out).

“The business model would always be under review. The Northern Ireland banking market is extremely competitive. You have to make sure all facets of your operation are done on an optimum cost basis.”

Larry Broderick, general secretary of the FSU, confirmed it has “advised its members that First Trust Bank plans to review its future structure”.

“Given the recent announcement by Bank of Ireland to close more than 20% of its branch network in Northern Ireland, we are concerned about the implications the review will have for both staff, customers and branches.

“This issue is not, however, just about individual bank branches — it is about the provision of vital banking services in local communities throughout Northern Ireland. This is something which requires a wider political and societal discussion.

“Accessible banking services are vital for small businesses, those with little or no access to online services and those who prefer to do their business in person.”

A spokesman for First Trust Bank said: “We continually keep our operations in all markets under review to ensure we are operating effectively and efficiently as possible.”

Just last week, Bank of Ireland revealed it’s shutting eight locations across Northern Ireland — almost a quarter of its 36 branches.

The recent closure of the Belleek branch in Co Fermanagh was also branded a “blow” to the local community, as it was the last bank branch open in the village.

Bank of Ireland says the closures will happen on a “phased basis commencing late autumn 2016”.

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