North lost 27 per cent of total bank branch network in three years

Bank of Ireland's Ormeau Road branch, one of 15 northern branches closed by the lender during 2021. Picture by Mal McCann.
Bank of Ireland's Ormeau Road branch, one of 15 northern branches closed by the lender during 2021. Picture by Mal McCann.

THE north lost 27 per cent of its total bank branch network in less than three years, analysis carried out by the Consumer Council shows.

The watchdog said 52 branches across Northern Ireland were permanently shut between May 2020 and January 2023.

The Consumer Council said it initiated the study last year in a bid to understand the impact of bank branch closures on consumers.

It said the research shows bank branch closures have a bigger negative impact on vulnerable consumers, including those who have a disability or who are on low incomes.

The period covered in the report saw the traditional ‘big four’ banks of Danske Bank, AIB (formerly First Trust), Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland significantly reducing their northern networks.

In the past two years alone, Bank of Ireland has closed 15 branches, Ulster Bank nine and both AIB and Danske Bank have each closed eight branches.

Halifax has also closed five branches in recent years, with HSBC also reducing its small northern banking network.

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  • Danske Bank set to close 50th branch in Northern Ireland since 2010

The Consumer Council said one-in-five (21 per cent) of consumers in the north have seen their local bank branch close within the last three years.

According to its research, 84 per cent of consumers who had experienced a bank branch closure said it had an impact on their lives.

That increases to 90 per cent for consumers on low incomes and 94 per cent for consumers who have a disability.

Of those in rural areas where their local bank closed, over half of them (53 per cent) said that it had a major impact on them and their local community.

Scott Kennerley, director of financial services at the Consumer Council, said: “The alternatives provided for consumers when a branch closes, such as using the Post Office or online and telephone banking, provide benefits for many consumers, but they do not meet everyone’s needs.

“This research shows that consumers are being impacted by bank branch closures and it is potentially the more vulnerable that are feeling the impact more than others.

“We know that bank branches are unlikely to return to high streets, but consumers need the right level of support to make sure that they can still access the banking services they need.”