Thursday 25 May 2017

Finance jobs face axe as Postbank to close

Charlie Weston and Joe Brennan

CONSUMERS were left reeling last night when yet another bank decided to turn its back on the Irish market.

Postbank, the joint venture between An Post and the French bank BNP Paribas, which operates in 1,000 post offices, is to close by the end of the year.

The move will mean up to 150 of its 260 staff are likely to lose their jobs. Staff were only told about the closure yesterday afternoon and no discussions have taken place on any redundancy deal.

Postbank, which has some of the most competitive banking products in the market, is just the latest of a string of banks to shut up operations.

Last year, Ulster Bank said it was doing away with its First Active brand. Halifax-Bank of Scotland (Ireland) announced earlier this month that it was closing its 44 retail branches.

Permanent TSB and National Irish Bank are both laying off workers and shutting branches, while EBS and Irish Nationwide are to be merged in a move that is expected to mean branch closures and job losses.

Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks slashed their combined workforce by 3,200 last year by not replacing staff who either left of their own accord or retired.

This latest closure means around 6,500 job losses have been announced in the banking sector in the past 14 months. More are expected.

Consumer advocates said last night that the closure of Postbank would see AIB and Bank of Ireland return to a position of dominance in the Irish market.

Postbank has 170,000 customers who had opened 200,000 accounts since it was set up three years ago.

It was widely acknowledged to have one of the cheapest current accounts, while it also offered insurance, credit cards and savings and investments. It also had plans to offer loans and mortgages.

Postbank chief executive Margaret Sweeney said last night that the fact that the bank had not launched loans and mortgages before the downturn hit meant that it "was left flying on one wing".

The bank will not be taking on new business from Monday and will cease operations here from the end of the year.

Steve Fitzpatrick, general secretary of the Communications Workers Union, which represents most of those employed in the bank, said the closure was a missed opportunity.

"Despite the difficulties in the banking sector, the decision to axe Postbank will be seen to be a major missed opportunity to provide straight-forward banking services to ordinary people through the most extensive banking network in the country -- the post office network operated by An Post," he said.

Chief executive of the Consumers' Association, Dermott Jewell, said the decision to shut Postbank was a serious blow to consumer choice.

"This leaves us at the mercy of a domestic banking sector which is determined to fleece us," he said.

Blame

Financial adviser Karl Deeter of Irish Mortgage Brokers said consumers themselves were largely to blame for the decision by the bank to close because people would not move from their existing banks to benefit from cheaper banking that was being offered by the likes of Postbank.

"When it comes to banking, we are like a spouse in an abusive relationship. We keep going back for more, instead of walking out," he said.

The closure will have no impact on the tax-free savings certificates and savings bonds sold by An Post, which are not part of the banking operation, a spokeswomen for the Financial Regulator confirmed.

She also insisted that accounts with Postbank were safe and added that it was covered by the State's bank guarantee.

Postbank branches will open today and those with queries can ring 1890 303040.

Irish Independent

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