Three local branches of the First Trust Bank are to close in the summer, in a move criticised by an MLA from one of the affected areas.
The Portadown, Armagh and Banbridge branches are among 15 in the province being axed.
The announcement was made yesterday (Wednesday) by the bank, which cited the shift towards digital banking as the deciding factor.
The Portadown branch will close on August 4 with its business moved to Lurgan, the Armagh branch on July 7 with its business moving to Dungannon and the Banbridge branch on August 4 with its customer accounts transferred to Newry.
The decision to close the Armagh branch has been slammed by Newry and Armagh MLA William Irwin who said it was “most unwelcome”, adding that customers felt they had no say “in this negative decision”
Head of First Trust Bank Des Moore said, “Due to changing customer behaviours and trends and in particular the sizable shift from branch usage towards digital banking, First Trust Bank has undertaken an 18-month strategic review to plan how we best serve the needs of customers now and in the future.
“Since 2010 we have seen almost a 40 per cent decline in branch usage coupled with a 117 per cent increase in mobile transactions over the past two years and we have had to make the difficult decision to close a number of branches.
“We will be working hard to minimise the impact on the customers and staff concerned.”
Mr Moore said the bank had partnered with the Post Office so customers can use Post Office branches for their everyday banking transactions.
He added, “We are also significantly extending the hours for our Direct Customer Contact Banking services, delivering enhanced online and mobile services, while also investing heavily in our remaining branch network.”
MLA William Irwin said, “Having spoken to the Head of First Trust Des Moore, I have passed to him the concerns of local customers. For local First Trust customers who rely on a service in Armagh city this news will be such a blow and with First Trust also closing the Portadown branch it means customers will have to travel to Dungannon. That is certainly not my idea of ‘local’ banking.
“There has been a number closures in recent years of local bank. Tandragee lost both its bank branches, Newtownhamilton and Markethill lost their banks and now Armagh City is set to lose a branch. First Trust state that the decision to close the Armagh Branch is being led by the switch to online and smartphone banking. However not everyone is using this technology or feel comfortable banking online.”
Mr Irwin added, “I will be continuing to raise my concerns with First Trust on this very backwards step, especially given the real issues it will pose for more elderly customers who will find adapting to online banking or travelling the considerable distance to Dungannon difficult to manage.
”Local banking is important and it brings necessary footfall to our towns and cities which helps our local economy and should therefore be protected.”