Belfast Telegraph

First Trust selling off empty Northern Ireland branches after cuts


By John Mulgrew

First Trust is selling off several of its former Northern Ireland branches after a wave of cuts were announced earlier this year.

The bank revealed it was shutting 15 branches across Northern Ireland back in February. That was around half of the bank’s branch network here.

That came after the Belfast Telegraph revealed in July 2016 that the bank could shut branches as part of a review of its operations here.

Now First Trust is selling off branches it has already shut and also seeking lettings for other buildings.

That includes High Street in Belfast, on the market for £2m, along with the Ormeau Road, which has a price of £350,000.

The bank is also putting a property on High Street in Antrim on the market for £150,000 and one on Main Street in Strabane for the same price.

Commercial property agents are also now trying to find new tenants for properties in Londonderry, Cookstown and Magherafelt.

Lambert Smith Hampton and Frazer Kidd are both advertising the various bank properties for sale.

A spokeswoman for First Trust confirmed it’s selling off branches which have closed.

Other branch locations being sold off include Bridge Street in Banbridge, which is on sale for £185,000, and Market Street in Downpatrick at £165,000.

“We are selling the branch properties associated with the closures and these are being advertised via the Press and the internet for sale on the open market from this month,” the bank said in a statement.

A total of 15 branches have already shut, with the last to close in Banbridge, Portadown and High Street, Belfast, at the start of this month.

Speaking as around 130 jobs were put on the line earlier this year, head of First Trust, Des Moore, said the bank has seen a 40% decline in branch usage in the last seven years, with mobile banking up 117% in the last two years.

A spokeswoman for the bank said: “Earlier this year, following an extensive 18-month strategic review, First Trust Bank announced a reshaping and investment programme to ensure a sustainable future for the bank and its customers, addressing the considerable shift in customer behaviour.

“The transformation programme includes a significant £10m investment strategy for personal and business customers, including five new business centres across the province, in addition to Belfast.

“The programme also includes the consolidation of the First Trust Bank branch network which has now completed.

“With a new partnership with the Post Office, the bank’s customers can also now conduct their everyday banking transactions in any of the 500-plus Post Offices across Northern Ireland.

“We continue to encourage customers with any concerns to contact us so that we can discuss these and work through the alternatives.

“Any of our branch teams or telephone agents are more than happy to help and advise customers.

“As a result of our transformation plans and the consolidation of our branch network, we entered into a consultation with the Financial Services Union to agree the terms and the support for staff with our voluntary severance programme.”

In its latest published accounts earlier this year, First Trust in Northern Ireland announced pre-tax profits of £54m — up 15%.

They were published at the start of March, just a week after announcing it was shutting half of its branch network here.

The bank, part of AIB, revealed a breakdown for First Trust for the first time in its full company accounts.

It warned that, given Northern Ireland’s political instability, the uncertainty may have an “adverse effect” on the group.

“If an arrangement cannot be agreed, the current political structures in Northern Ireland may be subject to significant change,” it said.

“The uncertainty resulting from these developments may have an adverse effect on economic conditions in Northern Ireland, which could in turn have an adverse effect on the group, given its operations there.”

AIB announced pre-tax profits of €1.7bn (£1.46bn) for the year ending 2016. It proposes a dividend of €250m (£214m) to ordinary shareholders.

The overall UK business, which includes First Trust, posted pre-tax profits of £140m for the same period.

Belfast Telegraph