One in four bank branches set to close in massive cull
Focus will move to phone and internet banking
HUNDREDS of towns will lose their local banks as one in four branches are to close in a massive cull.
Details of the biggest shake-up of Irish retail banking in history can be revealed today. The Irish Independent has learnt of advanced plans at AIB, EBS, Ulster Bank and Permanent TSB to close 200 branches between them within two years.
There are 846 branches between AIB, EBS, Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and Permanent TSB -- but this is expected to fall to about 640.
The Irish Independent has learnt that written outlines of the branch-closing plans have been submitted to the Government and regulators.
The dramatic closure of so many branches will lead to the loss of thousands of jobs, on top of those already announced.
Banking services will be severely curtailed for those in rural areas, as many branches are largely loss-making.
During the property boom, these branches were able to prosper by selling mortgages, but they have now become expensive units. The only regular type of work is when customers come in to make a lodgment or open a savings account.
A spate of closures over the next 18 months to two years will include:
- AIB is planning to close 70 of its 270 branches. It also controls EBS, which has 84 branches. There are no details yet on how many of these are to go, but it is understood many will close, especially where there is an overlap. The bank said last week it was laying off 2,500 people and closing branches, but did not say how many.
- Ulster Bank is to close up to 40 of its branches. It has 146 outlets and is grappling with trying to get its payments systems back on track. This has delayed branch-pruning plans.
- Permanent TSB is to close up to 25 branches out of a total of 92. It has already said 15 would go, with the loss of 100 jobs, but the number has grown.
- National Irish Bank is to close all of its 27 branches.
It is understood that all the main banks have outlined their moves to the Central Bank and the Department of Finance, while some of the plans have also been outlined to unions.
No details have been given yet to officials for the Bank of Ireland closures. Yesterday it continued to insist it was not closing any of its 254 branches.
The number of EBS outlets to go is unclear, but sources said most branches would close.
This means that about 200 outlets will close in the next 12 to 24 months.
There has been some surprise among banking analysts that so few branches have closed up to now, given the scale of the banking collapse that began in September 2008.
A total of €64bn of State money has had to be pumped into the domestic banks, while the UK has put £13bn (€16.5bn) into Ulster Bank.
Banks are set to come under pressure to alternate branch closures within a given area -- this is to avoid a single town losing both an AIB and an Ulster Bank branch, for example. How this will work and affect customers remains to be seen.
Already, people in country towns and villages feel they are losing out to larger urban areas, and yet they don't have the same access to broadband or wireless internet phone technology that urban areas enjoy.
People living in areas where branches are to close will be encouraged to use telephone and internet banking. Both AIB and National Irish Bank have signed deals with An Post to use the State 1,100 post offices for lodging cheques and cash.
Banks are expected to come under pressure to provide additional help for people who are not computer-literate. A good broadband service is a continuing concern.
The closure of branches is set to rip the commercial heart out of many towns -- with so many struggling already.
AIB, EBS, Ulster Bank and Permanent TSB had no official comment to make regarding any closures, while BoI said it wasn't planning any closures.