Business

Ulster Bank confirms plans for another nine branch closures

Ulster Bank says it intends to close another nine branches by the end of the summer
Gary McDonald Business Editor

ULSTER Bank will close another nine branches in Northern Ireland within the next three months as part of the continuing inexorable march towards digital banking.

The branches affected are in Holywood, Warrenpoint, Dunmurry, Antrim, Ballymoney, Larne, Comber, Maghera and Clogher.

Shocked bank workers were told of the move yesterday, and it is understood some staff are likely to be made redundant as a result of the restructure.

An Ulster Bank spokesperson told the Irish News: "As with many industries, most of our customers are shifting to mobile and online banking, because it's faster and easier for people to manage their financial lives.

"We understand and recognise that digital solutions aren't right for everyone or every situation, and that when we close branches we have to make sure that no one is left behind.

"We take our responsibility seriously to support the people who face challenges in moving online, so we are investing to provide them with support and alternatives that work for them."

The move by Ulster Bank comes less than a week after Danske Bank confirmed that it would shut branches in Lurgan, Cookstown, Kilkeel and Fivemiletown on September 16.

The decisions means that nearly half of all bank branches in the north will have shut within the past six years as lenders cut back their networks to boost profits.

It also leaves the 'big four' grouping of Danske Bank, Ulster Bank, Bank of Ireland and First Trust (now operating as AIB) with 83 branches between them - a staggering comparison to nearly 300 banks at the turn of the Millennium, with every town and many villages once boasting their own branch.

In February, Stormont finance minister Conor Murphy hosted a meeting at Stormont to discuss the rapid pace of change in the north's banking sector, at which Financial Services Union (FSU) general secretary John O’Connell said: “The closure of bank branches has led to what was once a stable fabric of local communities disappearing overnight.”

Earlier this month the FSU also expressed concern over the fate of hundreds of Ulster Bank jobs in Belfast after its parent owner NatWest confirmed it will transfer some roles from Northern Ireland to Bolton and other locations in Britain.

It comes amid continued uncertainty over the future of around 600 contact centre jobs in Belfast, which directly service the Ulster Bank operation in the Republic.

NatWest is already in the process of winding down the Ulster Bank business across the border ahead of complete withdrawal later this year.

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