Wednesday 7 December 2016

Banks poised for fresh cutbacks to branch services

Charlie Weston and Colm Kelpie

Published 29/04/2016 | 02:30

Bank of Ireland Chairman Archie Kane. Photo: Frank McGrath
Bank of Ireland Chairman Archie Kane. Photo: Frank McGrath

Fears are growing that banks are preparing for a new assault on branch services, leaving thousands of customers stranded.

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Concerns were raised after Bank of Ireland highlighted that just 4pc of its total transactions take place through its branches.

The bank caused outrage last November when it brought in new rules restricting cash withdrawals and lodgements in its branches.

And there was a spate of branch closures across all banks during the austerity years.

Now shareholders of Bank of Ireland have complained about the scaling back of branches, and the push to get customers to use online services.

Bank chairman Archie Kane told shareholders yesterday it is conscious of the difficulties some people have using electronic services.

But he added: "You have to keep up with the world."

Banks have been encouraging customers to bank online at home or on their phones, and to use automated machines in branches.

But Irish Rural Link pointed out that some 750,000 homes and businesses will have to wait years for adequate broadband.

The Government this week confirmed that the National Broadband Plan, which promised subsidised modern internet to 750,000 non-urban homes and businesses by 2020, will not start this year as planned.

James Claffey of Irish Rural Link said: "There is huge concern that customers of banks are being encouraged to go online, but you can't make that work if you do not have adequate broadband.

"Older people, in particular, do not trust online banking services and prefer to use cash."

And Michael Kilcoyne of the Consumers' Association claimed Bank of Ireland "was softening people up for more cuts to its services".

"All banks are aiming to have as few staff as possible. They do not want to see customers in branches. They want customers to do the work for them, and charge a fee for it."

He said the lack of broadband in rural areas meant the move to online banking was not feasible.

Many people were afraid of online banking because of the risk of losing money to scams.

Around 200 bank branches were closed, mainly in rural areas, during the financial collapse, with at least 10,000 retail bank staff laid-off.

Banks including Bank of Scotland, Danske, ACC and Irish Nationwide have already closed, limiting banking options for customers.

But Bank of Ireland's Archie Kane insisted the branch network remained a key part of its distribution operations.

"However, the role of the branch has changed," he added.

Mr Kane said the transactions were moving to digital and self-help propositions.

"Generally speaking, most customers are adopting that, but we are very conscious that some customers may have difficulty with that.

"We try to ensure that there are people in the branches who are available to help people make that transition to those new ways of doing business. You have to keep up with the world, as it progresses."

Irish Independent

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