NATIONAL Irish Bank will shut two thirds of its branches for good and let 100 staff go as it continues to grapple with the collapse of the banking sector and a move towards the internet.
The Danish-owned bank, which has already done away with cash and cheques in all branches, said it will close all 27 branches sometime in mid-November and then re-open seven branches for customers who need to speak to bank officials about complex products such as mortgages and pensions.
Two more branches will also be opened, leaving customers with nine branches to look after the needs of 160,000 customers. No customers will be able to visit the branches without appointments.
NIB will also switch from Laser to Visa cards and take the name of its parent, Danske Bank, at the same time, ending an association with a brand that stretches back centuries.
NIB has responded much more aggressively to cut costs than state-funded banks such as Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks which have yet to shed many workers.
The bank's 442 staff were informed of the decision yesterday evening. Bank executives declined to give any details about the redundancy package.
The Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA) said it was "appalled" and called for an "urgent" meeting with Danske Bank management in Copenhagen.
IBOA leader Larry Broderick added that the closures "may be the prelude to Danske Bank abandoning the Republic of Ireland completely."
The bank denied that the move was part of a phased withdrawal, noting that corporate and business services were expanding quickly. Danske "wouldn't put their name above the door lightly," said Terry Browne, who is Danske Bank's country head for Ireland.
The closures will leave NIB with just nine branches in the Republic, where the bank's customers will be able to discuss mortgages, pensions and other financial products.
Routine transactions will be made over the phone or online.
"There was too little business at our branches," said NIB personal banking boss Jesper Nielsen said yesterday. "People are going idle."
Staff were also too involved in dealing with credit problems rather than selling banking services, he added.
Yesterday's announcement marks another round of closures at NIB following the shuttering of 25 branches two years ago and the axing of 150 jobs. In May, the bank lost veteran chief executive Andrew Healy and several other senior executives.
NIB said the branch closures were an attempt to address "shifts in customer behaviour, while creating an efficient business model to support the bank's strategy into the future."
The bank, which wants customers to use the internet and mobile phones to conduct most of their business, said it will soon bring out a new app for iPads.
NIB will have five branches outside Dublin in Waterford, Athlone, Cork, Limerick, Letterkenny and four branches in Dublin at the IFSC, Tallaght, Swords and Stillorgan.
Branches outside Dublin will close in Ballincollig, Carrick-on-Shannon, Cavan, Drogheda, Galway FSC, Kilkenny, Mallow, Monaghan, Mullingar, Navan, Sligo, Wexford. Branches in Dublin will close in Baggot Street, Blanchardstown, College Green, Dun Laoghaire, Howth Road, Malahide, South Circular Road and Walkinstown.
The bank's customers will be able to continue lodging cheques and cash at post offices.
"We're not too worried" about losing customers, said Mr Nielsen.
"More and more customers want to conduct their banking business by telephone, smartphone or over the internet as they do for other day-to-day lifestyle need," he added.