Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Ulster Bank closures a big loss for the elderly

In their advertising campaigns, banks like to portray themselves as all about customer service. Invariably, the images are of friendly smiling officials shaking hands with another satisfied business or personal banking customer.

However, the reality is often different, with the financial institutions becoming more and more impersonal.

Bank managers are an endangered species, if they have not already disappeared.

Instead, technology rules. We can bank online, transfer money between accounts at the click of a button, make purchases without ever feeling the pain of the money slipping out of our hands, and apply for loans and mortgages via the internet to someone who does not know us and who is applying an impersonal check list against our application.

It is easy to understand how banks are keen to row back on the number of branches they operate, given the rise of internet banking. Staff and properties affect the bottom line of many banks, which are still reeling from the financial crash of a decade ago - even if customers will say that it was mostly self-inflicted pain.

But this approach, as evidenced by the announcement yesterday that the Ulster Bank is to close another 11 branches next year, disregards the position that banks still hold in many parts of Northern Ireland.

They are seen, particularly by the elderly population, as one of the pillars of a local town or community. Internet coverage is not good in many areas of the province and the elderly in many cases mistrust online banking, or just want to talk to a friendly official when carrying out their transactions. That may involve long journeys in future for those lucky enough to have available transport.

Of the 11 locations cited by Ulster Bank, only two will still retain any bank branch when these closures take affect. In the last seven years the main banks have closed 42% of their branches around the province, with 33 closures this year.

Perhaps one of the most surprising places to be left without a bank is Portrush. Traders in the ready-cash tourist economy that fuels the town in future will have to bank in Coleraine and visitors to the Open golf championship at the local course in 2019 wouldn't even have a bureau de change to meet their needs.

The closures mean staff losing their jobs; hardly a boost to the local economy, never mind the personal pain of being made redundant. Progress is far from a win-win situation.

Belfast Telegraph

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