Banks close quarter of Northern Ireland branches in year
One in four branches of the big Northern Ireland banks will have shut their doors in the space of little over a year, it can be revealed.
A breakdown of figures from Ulster Bank, Danske Bank, First Trust and Bank of Ireland shows that between the start of 2017 and autumn this year, almost 25% of their branches will have closed.
That includes 11 Ulster Bank branches shut by the autumn, following the closure of nine last year, cutting its network from 64 down to 44.
First Trust cut its branch network in half during 2017, with now just 15 across Northern Ireland.
Danske Bank shut two branches here last year, reducing its network to 44.
And Bank of Ireland now has 28 branches after pulling the shutters down on six in 2017.
Bank of Ireland said: "In January 2017 the number was 34. The closures were announced in July 2016.
"There are no further closures planned, however we will always continue to keep our business and the external environment under review."
Danske Bank said: "We have 44 branches in Northern Ireland. We closed two branches in 2017, the first closures since 2014. So we had 46 branches in January 2017.
"We currently have no plans to close branches in 2018, however with consumer behaviour changing all the time, we always keep our branch footprint under review."
First Trust said there had been a "reshaping and investment programme" involving "the consolidation of First Trust Bank's network of 30 branches at the start of 2017 to 15, and a significant investment to include the opening of five new business centres across the province".
Across the other banks operating here, Santander will shut two of its 20 local branches this year.
Halifax operates 16 branches.
As a result of the closures, some towns and villages will be left without any banks. That includes Portrush, as Ulster Bank is pulling down the shutters on the town's branch later this year.
All four of the main banks have closed up to half of their local network in recent years as they cut costs and react to the rise in online and mobile banking.
Larry Broderick, general secretary of the Financial Services Union, told the Belfast Telegraph: "Behind each branch closure there is a story of staff disruption, customer dissatisfaction and an erosion of community services, particularly in rural areas. My union believes that many of these closures are based on a very short-term, narrow, cost-cutting agenda.
"Even in an era of increasing digitalisation there is an alternative approach that ensures services for customers and enables staff to remain serving the communities they have close connections with.
"We need all stakeholders to come together to discuss how financial services will be delivered over the next five to 10 years. A long-term strategy, not a short-term cost-cutting agenda, is urgently needed."
John French of the Consumer Council said: "The way we bank has been changing in recent years and many consumers are now choosing to use different ways to bank, such as online or telephone banking. However, some people still value face-to-face contact.
"Since 2010, we have seen around 42% of bank branches close in Northern Ireland. We would encourage any consumer affected by a bank branch closure to speak directly with their bank to check the new arrangements meet their individual needs, and/or consider switching provider."