Sunday 16 December 2018

Ulster says no mass branch closures here after RBS move

Last month, Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland said it would close 11 of 66 branches there. Photo: PA
Last month, Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland said it would close 11 of 66 branches there. Photo: PA
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

Ulster Bank is insisting that it won't shut more branches here, even after the shock closure of a quarter of all owner Royal Bank of Scotland's UK bank branches in the most dramatic sign yet that lenders are pulling out of their physical networks.

UK state-owned RBS announced yesterday that it will close 259 branches in England, Scotland and Wales and cut around 680 jobs.

The move is aimed at cutting costs and encouraging more customers to use digital services, drawing criticism from politicians.

The latest round of branch closures in Britain is in addition to 180 branches the bank announced in March that it was closing.

Here, a spokeswoman for Ulster Bank said no additional branches are to be shut, beyond the 22 closures announced also last March.

That cut the bank's branch network in the Republic to 88.

Those closures ranged from Dublin, Cork and Limerick to rural towns in Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Monaghan, Offaly and Longford. All 22 offices have now been closed.

Last month, Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland said it would close 11 of 66 branches there.

The latest RBS cuts mean British banks are set to close more than 1,000 branches this year, a record according to a Reuters analysis of previous announcements and academic studies.

Britain's largest banks are disproportionately closing branches in the lowest-income areas while expanding in wealthier ones, taking bricks-and-mortar services away from communities where they are arguably needed most, Reuters reported in June last year.

Opposition politicians in Westminister took to Twitter to rebuke RBS for the move yesterday, which they said would leave some areas without any branches.

"Bailed out by the taxpayer and they repay our communities by withdrawing from them," tweeted Ian Blackford, an MP from the Scottish National Party. "This has to be stopped."

Jane Howard, RBS's managing director of branch banking, told Reuters that customers are increasingly using mobile and online channels rather than bricks-and-mortar branches, and RBS had to react to that. "There will be some customers that will be really disappointed we are closing branches ... and I understand why. But it's important that we do respond."

RBS is investing in its remaining branches and its digital offering, Ms Howard said, adding: "Given what we know, we've got the right shape of network."

However, the UK's Federation of Small Businesses' (FSB) national chairman, Mike Cherry, said cash and face-to-face support is still critical for many local businesses, and owners needed sustainable alternatives.

"What we can't have is banks shutting branches on a whim," he said.

Unite, which represents staff at RBS, said the bank was "decimating" its branch network.

"This announcement will forever change the face of banking in this country, resulting in over a thousand staff losing their jobs and hundreds of high streets without any banking facilities," Rob MacGregor, Unite national officer, said.

The latest closures of RBS and Natwest branches in England, Wales and Scotland leaves it with around 744 branches - down from 2,278 in 2007.

After being bailed out in the crash, the UK government plans to start selling £15bn of shares in RBS next year. (Additional reporting Reuters)

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business