Monday 26 September 2016

Expanding AIB is urged to review its rural closures

Published 04/09/2015 | 02:30

Allied Irish Banks chief executive Bernard Byrne
Allied Irish Banks chief executive Bernard Byrne

AIB has been called on to do more for rural customers as it plans to open three new branches in big cities.

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The new branches in Dublin and Cork are the first openings since the financial crisis hit in 2008. AIB, which is owned by taxpayers, closed 67 branches in 2012.

The new branches are opening in Dublin's tech hub in Docklands, Carrickmines shopping centre in Co Dublin, and the Little Island area in Cork, which is a major centre for big pharma companies.

The Carrickmines branch is set to open on Sundays from 12pm to 4pm.

A group representing rural Ireland welcomed the fact that new branches were opening, but called for the bank to look again at the branch shut-downs in smaller towns and villages.

Most of the branches closed three years ago were in rural areas.

Seamus Boland, of Ireland Rural Link, said: "Bank branches are important in any community as it provides both financial and social benefits while also allowing the bank to gain a local knowledge of the area.

"Irish Rural Link notes the previous closure of 67 AIB bank branches and calls for a review of these closures."

MEP Marian Harkin said the bank was only mimicking Government policy, which she claimed had failed to support rural areas.

"How can we expect commercial institutions to run counter to Government policy? That policy had led to the closure of rural post offices, rural schools, rural garda stations and the closure of A&E services."

AIB now has 200 branches, with its subsidiary EBS operating another 70.

Along with branch closures there have been a number of amalgamations.

Staffing numbers at the bank are down 2,000 since the boom.

The new branches will have extended opening hours during the week and the Dublin locations will also open at weekends.

AIB's chief executive Bernard Byrne said the new branches marked an important milestone in the bank's strategy.

"Over the past number of years, AIB has transformed its business to be more focussed on customer needs, with flexible banking hours, the latest in in-branch technologies and significant improvements in mobile and online banking," Mr Byrne said.

"For the first time in three years we are expanding our branch network and we will continue investing in our branches nationwide," he said.

All three branches are set to open on October 28.

Meanwhile, the Competition Commission has opened a preliminary investigation to assess whether any competition issues will result from the sale of properties owned by developer Gerry Gannon that house 10 AIB branches in Dublin.

These buildings are on O'Connell Street and Dame Street in the city centre as well as outlets in a number of city suburbs.

The developer is selling the buildings, which are rented by AIB, after buying them in 2006. They are some of the best-located bank branches in Dublin.

Irish Independent

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