Bank of Ireland branch closure frenzy must be paused
- Shuttering of 88 branches a massive blow to communities across the country
- Central Bank and Minister must act to pause closures during pandemic
- Move by bank a kick in teeth for loyal customers and staff
Labour’s Finance spokesperson Ged Nash has described the announcement by Bank of Ireland of its plans to close 88 branches in the Republic of Ireland as a kick in the teeth for thousands of loyal customers and staff.
Calling for a pause on bank branch closures during the pandemic, Deputy Nash said;
“There is no doubt that Bank of Ireland is exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to drive down its costs. The bank’s ruthlessly opportunistic plans to cull 88 branches in towns across the State will have an even more severe and direct impact on the fabric of communities across the country than Ulster Bank’s recent announcement, given their extensive reach.
“This move has been on their agenda for some time and it was telling that the bank refused to share the terms of reference of the operational review which has provided the basis for this decision with the Financial Services Union who represents the bulk of branch staff.
“Physical bank branches are intrinsic to the commercial and social life of main street Ireland but it seems that this is a factor of limited interest to the Central Bank of Ireland as the regulator.
“In Ireland, financial institutions are required under a 2012 Code of Practice for consumers to provide a two-month period of notice to customers and to the regulator if any changes are being planned to branch operations.
“This compares unfavourably with the 12-month period required in the UK and the obligation imposed on financial institutions there to meaningfully engage and consult with affected customers and communities where closures are under consideration.
“Last March, Bank of Ireland unilaterally closed over 100 branches without due statutory notice and many of those branches are now only partially reopened. They cannot be allowed to get away with an unparalleled branch closure frenzy of this magnitude with impunity.
“As a 16% shareholder in the bank, the Minister for Finance must play a public interest role along with the Central Bank to pause bank branch closures for now and to fully interrogate Bank of Ireland’s decision and hold bank management to account.
“Experience tells us that once a local bank branch is gone it will never return. In the case of Bank of Ireland the fact is that many of the branches in the firing line are the last ones standing in their locality.
“In the current uncertain climate it is impossible to undertake a realistic assessment of the optimum number of branches any bank can support into the future.
“The Code of Practice as it relates to the bank branch network and consumer rights must be changed. The Central Bank must play a much more vigorous role and banks considering exiting from a community must be obligated to work with the regulator to undertake rigorous economic and social impact assessments of their plans before the green light is given.
“This has been a tumultuous period for Irish banking. More change is on the way and that is why a Forum on Banking must be established as a matter of urgency to chart a course forward for a sector that knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.”
Last week, Deputy Nash wrote to the Oireachtas Finance Committee to invite Bank of Ireland CEO Francesca McDonagh to the Committee to discuss the bank’s branch closure plans.