Bank closures prompt call to help customer requirements

Bank closures prompt call to help customer requirements

29 November 2023

THE decision by Ulster Bank to close its branches in Ballynahinch and Downpatrick next year has prompted a call for a review of the district’s banking services.

The doors of the bank’s Main Street branch in Ballynahinch will close at the end of February, while the Market Street facility in Downpatrick closes in November, leaving the town with just two banks — Danske and Santander.

Ulster Bank says the closure decisions were made “after careful consideration” of a wide range of factors including changes in customer branch usage over a long period of time, the types of transactions they undertake and ways customers can bank locally.

The bank said it is committed to ensuring customers can continue to access its banking services, but explained the way customers bank has “changed dramatically in recent years” with an increased demand for mobile and online services as customers benefit from a faster and easier way to bank. 

Ulster Bank said it over 93% of its retail banking customer needs are now met digitally and over half of retail banking customers bank entirely digitally. 

South Down MP Chris Hazzard — who has requested the review – said the closures will impact on workers and communities and has previously campaigned to help secure banking hubs in Kilkeel and Warrenpoint following similar reviews of local access to banking facilities. 

“The recent announcement that 10 Ulster Bank branches are set to close, including Ballynahinch and Downpatrick, is a huge blow to the workers in those branches and the community they serve,” said the MP.

“While the trend is towards increasing digital banking, for some customers this is not convenient or possible, and for rural communities important services are disappearing. For many, including our local farming and fishing industry here in east Down, access to cash and a local bank is vital.”

Mr Hazzard said Sinn Féin has contacted the Financial Conduct Authority, urging it to intervene and put a block on any further bank branch closures. 

“I have also now engaged with cash machine network LINK and requested a review of banking facilities in Downpatrick, and local access to cash services,” he continued.

“Following similar reviews in Kilkeel and Warrenpoint, we were able to secure the establishment of a banking hub where a number of banks and financial services are based throughout the week.”

Mr Hazzard added: “In the likelihood that Ulster Bank will proceed with the closures, the creation of a banking hub in Downpatrick would at the very least protect local access to cash services and face to face banking.” 

Alliance MLA Patrick Brown said he was “disappointed” to learn of the Ulster Bank’s decision to close its branch and believes a so-called banking hub should be provided in the town.

DUP MLA Harry Harvey said he was “very disappointed” that Ballynahinch is set to lose its Ulster Bank branch. 

“Once again, we will see yet another bank withdrawing high street services from a town in my constituency, impacting upon the elderly and vulnerable within the community the most,” he said.

“It is unacceptable that many customers are being disenfranchised from accessing banking services due to a lack of digital prowess or internet access. Given that Downpatrick is also set to lose its Ulster Bank presence, I intend to seek a meeting with the bank to highlight these concerns directly.”

Sinn Fein councillor Oonagh Hanlon said Ulster Bank branches in Downpatrick and Ballynahinch provided a “vital service” for both small businesses and personal banking. 

“The loss of these branches will cause huge disruption, particularly for people in rural communities who will now have to travel further to access a bank and for people who are unable to use online banking,” she continued.

Cllr Hanlon has welcomed plans to open so-called banking hubs in a number of towns, including Newcastle, to ensure residents have accessible cash services in their area. 

Alliance councillor Cadogan Enright said the planned closure of the Downpatrick branch is a blow to high street banking.