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Charlie Weston: This latest body blow will leave towns with little but tumbleweed


'The loss of a bank branch is often a real sign of distress for a town.' Photo: GETTY

'The loss of a bank branch is often a real sign of distress for a town.' Photo: GETTY

Corbis via Getty Images

'The loss of a bank branch is often a real sign of distress for a town.' Photo: GETTY

Nearly a decade after the financial crisis erupted, the body blows keep coming for consumers.

Like the scene from an old Western movie, tumbleweed blowing down the street is set to become the dominant feature of many rural towns and villages as banks and post offices leave town.

An Post is looking at pulling down the shutters on up to 80 branches, and Ulster Bank is likely to announce soon that it is boarding up as many as one-in-four branches.

We don't yet know the names of the locations where they are to be shut down, but closures are set to take the wind out of many a town.

The loss of a bank branch is often a real sign of distress for a town. Other banks will likely have gone since the savage financial crisis struck.

Banks such as AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank have already closed a combined 160 branches since the economy hit an iceberg in 2008.

And that does not include the loss of banks and their branch networks when Bank of Scotland (Ireland) and Danske Bank pulled out, never mind Irish Nationwide blowing itself up.

Now these towns are set to lose even more.

Up to 530 post offices in rural areas are doing so little business that they are losing large amounts of money.

People increasingly have welfare payments paid directly into bank accounts. That is why An Post is about to launch a low-cost current account in a bid to retain some of the value of these transactions.

Many post offices do little high-value business, being largely frequented by older people paying the odd bill, collecting a State payment and buying a stamp or two.

A sustainable way to run a business, this is not.

But this does not account for the hugely significant social value to a town of having a post office or a bank branch, and how a bank or post branch helps keep an area economically vibrant.

Soon, financial services will be concentrated on the east coast and in larger towns and cities elsewhere.

Whole swathes of the population will be forced to do their banking online.

If your broadband is not up to it, hard luck. You will have to travel to the nearest large town or city to buy foreign currencies or lodge a cheque.

None of this takes account of the legitimate fears many people have about the fact that by banking online they are exposing themselves to cyber fraudsters. In the past few days there have been bogus Electric Ireland bills with suspicious attachments doing the rounds, and scam emails purporting to come from Bank of Ireland asking people to input their personal identification numbers.

Fewer physical banks and post offices mean we risk becoming a nation of two halves - those who have access to on-street financial services and those who have none. And that is a sad state of affairs.

Irish Independent