Bank of Ireland to shut one in five of its branches in the North
Bank of Ireland is to cut 20pc of its branch network in Northern Ireland, reducing its number of outlets in the North to 28 from 36.
The decision could lead to up to 54 job losses. The bank said its branch network in the Republic won't be affected by the cuts.
A spokesman for the bank said those employed at the affected branches can transfer, redeploy or relocate to other roles within the bank or apply for voluntary redundancy.
However, the Financial Services Union (FSU) disputes this, saying 54 roles will be cut somewhere along the line.
The bank said the volume of business in the branches is insufficient to sustain them. The branches account for around 6pc of the bank's business in the North.
Bank of Ireland's Northern Ireland consumer and small business regional director, Sean Sheehan, said the decision had not been taken lightly. "A key priority will be to ensure customers understand the alternative arrangements available, and to maintain continuity of customer service," he said.
"We are responding to the continuing shift in customer behaviour towards increased use of digital and online channels, and the changes announced today will put us in the best position to continue to support our customers' changing needs and grow our business in the future," he said.
FSU general secretary Larry Broderick challenged the bank's plan to close the branches, describing it as "a kick in the teeth" for both customers and staff in Northern Ireland.
"At a time when the union is discussing with the bank the impact of existing workloads on both staff and customers, this announcement is a retrograde step which is more focused on cost cutting and enhancing profits rather than customers and staff," Mr Broderick claimed.
"The FSU will be challenging the bank's plans and, although the bank has confirmed that all redundancies will be voluntary, the union calls on politicians to support its campaign to challenge this decision in the interest of all stakeholders and the wider Northern Ireland economy," Mr Broderick added.
The branches scheduled for closure are located in Castlereagh, Draperstown, Antrim, Belleek, Castlederg, Newtownards, Maghera and 1 Donegal Square South, Belfast.
The business said the closures are due to be implemented on a phased basis starting in late autumn.
Bank of Ireland said it will write to customers affected by the changes 60 days before their branches close.
The news follows a prediction from Davy estimating that earnings at the bank could be hit by more than a third in the first half of the year.
The stockbroker cited a weakened sterling and a dropoff in bond gains as the main reason for the dip in earnings.
A hit in the bank's pension scheme also means that the payout of its first dividend since the financial crash may be further delayed as its available capital may be reduced.