Review banking needs in light of AIB branch closure in Kilkeel

Peter Bayne

Reporter:

Peter Bayne

Email:

peter.bayne@newrydemocrat.com

The Consumer Council is urging Allied Irish Banks (AIB) customers to review their banking needs in response to the closure of the Kilkeel branch on Friday,

Scott Kennerley, Director of Financial and Postal Services at the Consumer Council, said: “Whilst many consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland have made the switch to online or mobile banking, we know that some still prefer to use cash and rely on face-to-face banking through their local branch.

“Consumers in this area who do not feel comfortable with online or phone banking can continue to visit their nearest Post Office to pay in cash and cheques, withdraw money, and check their balance. Basic banking services is something the Post Office provides for all banks in Northern Ireland. Alternatively customers can visit any other Bank of Ireland branch or could consider switching their bank account.”

Further advice and support is available on the Consumers Council’s website (www.consumercouncil.org.uk), including a branch closure factsheet, a personal banking guide, a guide to switching banks and a current account comparison table.

Consumers can also get in touch with the Consumer Council for free independent advice by calling FREEPHONE 0800 121 6022 or by emailing contact@consumercouncil.org.uk.Four months ago the Bank announced

AIB announced earlier this year it was to close more than half of its 15 branches in Northern Ireland and their adjoining ATMs following a strategic review.

The bank said the decision to shut eight branches later this year comes as customer demand for branch banking diminishes, a trend accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It said the closures will be managed in line with its regulatory commitments and in consultation with the Financial Services Union.

AIB currently employs around 900 people in Northern Ireland and around 50 of these work in the branches impacted.

The Financial Services Union described the bank's announcement as a scandalous dereliction of its societal role and called on it to revisit its decision.

However, the bank has defended its decision, blaming it on a range of factors.

"We are operating in a very competitive and challenging landscape, with the added impacts of low interest rates and the pandemic," said Brian Gillan, Head of Retail & NI at AIB.

"This backdrop coupled with the continued shift from branch usage towards digital banking has necessitated this strategic review."

"The 'digital first ‘customer transition, which has been an industry-wide trend over the past four years, has accelerated dramatically due to the Covid-19 pandemic as even more people adapted to online platforms."

The lender said it had seen the number of active customers using its branch network in the north fall by a third, with a corresponding 52% increase in digital online payments in the last four years.

Despite the closure plans, the bank said it will continue to provide personal and business customers with a full-service offering.

It also plans to enhance its mortgage and business lending services.

"The bank will continue to serve customers in its seven remaining branches and is dedicated to ensuring continuous improvements to its overall digital experience for customers, through developing remote account opening for new personal customers and a digital mortgage offering," it said.

It will also enhance its partnership with the Post Office which allows customers to do everyday banking transactions in any of the more than 500 outlets across the north.

In March of this year AIB Group reported an adjusted pre-tax loss of £62m for 2020 as it grappled with the economic impact of Covid-19.

There had been operating profit of £116m - which was down 38% due to the income impact of lower interest results as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the profits were wiped out as the bank increased its impairment charge - the amount set aside to cover bad debts - to £178m from £18m in 2019.

The £62m loss compares to £172m in profits in 2019.

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