Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank to shut down 10 more branches across Northern Ireland

By Claire Cromie

Ulster Bank is to close another 10 ten branches across Northern Ireland by February.

The news comes a day after the bank's group was handed the biggest ever fine for an IT meltdown that left 700,000 customers unable to use their bank accounts for three weeks.

But the bank says no staff will be made redundant in the latest branch closures.

The 10 that will shut are:

  • 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

Branches earmarked for closure in the Republic are Ashbourne; Athboy; Athy; Ballinrobe; Castleblayney; Castlerea; Clonee; Croom; Ferbane, Loughrea; Manorhamilton; Moville; Roscrea; and Wicklow.

Stephen Cruise, Ulster Bank Head of Branch Banking, Private and Specialist Financial Advice, Northern Ireland said: "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.

"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 remains the largest branch network in Northern Ireland.

Mr Cruise said the bank would write to customers of the closing branches to inform them.

He added: "We are also communicating directly with staff in those branches.

“While we keep our points of presence under constant review in response to customer behaviour, we currently have no further plans to reduce our branch numbers in 2015.”

77 branches in four years

The Consumer Council said the news was disappointing and will mean that by February Northern Ireland’s big four banks will have closed 77 branches in the last four years - 31% of the bank branch network.

Rachael Cray, Head of Money Affairs said: “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. Prior to these closures in 2015, Ulster Bank must engage with affected customers to provide support and clearly communicate what the alternative banking options are.  In the meantime, we would urge Ulster Bank customers affected by the closures to contact their bank directly with any concerns they may have."

Union plea

Finance union IBOA has asked management to review the decision in the interests of both customers and employees, pointing out that Ulster Bank has now returned to profitability with positive results in each of the first three quarters of this year.

“While we welcome management’s assurance that the planned closures would not result directly in redundancies in Northern Ireland, we are, nevertheless, concerned about the potential impact on staff in scope for redeployment as well as the possible indirect consequences for others," said IBOA General Secretary Larry Broderick.

The union has asked for confirmation that this is the last tranche of closures for the foreseeable future.

"When senior representatives from Ulster Bank’s management appeared before the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee at Stormont earlier this year they declined to specify how many branches would be closed or how many jobs might be affected,” said Mr Broderick.

“While we note the bank’s commitment that no further closures are anticipated in 2015, we believe that if the bank wishes to avoid heightened uncertainty for customers and staff in other branches as a result of this latest announcement, it should now give a categorical assurance that no more branches have been earmarked for closure – at least until the end of 2016."

Blow to communities

East Belfast MP Naomi Long said the news of the Dundonald branch closure "dismissed" older customers.

“It is a disappointing move by Ulster Bank, especially considering Dundonald is a vibrant, growing community. Ulster Bank have stated the move is due to an increasing number of customers doing their banking online. But this attitude dismisses many residents of Dundonald, particularly older ones, who prefer to use the bank in person.

“While the fact that no job losses are expected is to be welcomed, I will press Ulster Bank to ensure they keep at least an operational ATM in Dundonald, so residents there can continue to have access to at least some services.”

West Tyrone MLA Joe Byrne said the closure Gortin branch's closure would leave customers having to travel 10 miles "across a mountain road" to Omagh, or 18 miles to Strabane.

He said: “Gortin is a vibrant rural community with many local businesses who rely on Ulster Bank. Banking through the post office is a poor substitute for businesses in the area, who will have reduced banking services as a result. It must also be considered that the Sperrins is an important tourist area and visitors to the area will also feel the loss of a local bank branch.

“It is very disappointing that Ulster Bank is showing so little social responsibility to rural communities. The people of mid-Tyrone deserve better.”

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