Northern Ireland banking sector set to shrink further

Giving evidence last week to MPs on the Northern Ireland affairs committee’s inquiry into the province’s banking structure, Ulster Bank’s Jim Brown said changing public habits meant that just 16 per cent of transactions took place in-branch.

Some 22 branches and sub-offices were closed last year across the whole of Ireland, Mr Brown confirmed, while more may follow in the wake of a long anticipated review into the business, expected to be published soon. The Royal Bank of Scotland owns Ulster Bank.

Mr Brown said the prevalence of mobile banking had affected usage of the traditional bank branch network, while the closures were driven by a lack of demand. He said: “There has been a huge shift over a very short period of time to that area, and not just in terms of transactions. It’s also customers opening accounts.”

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Also giving evidence was Des Moore, the head of the First Trust bank in Northern Ireland. The bank has closed 11 branches and four sub-offices during the past four years.

David Graham, director of Belfast-based Finance Matters, said: “I haven’t been impacted by the inability of customers to access their bank. However, I agree that there has been a big contraction in the scale of the banking system, driven by the collapse in the property market, and the lenders pretty much closed their doors.”


- Last month, Larry Broderick, general secretary of trade union the Irish Bank Officials Association, told the committee that the banking sector was demoralised and in an increasingly vulnerable position.

- Wilfred Mitchell, the Northern Ireland policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said in October that the banking system in the province was “broken”, and was not lending to small businesses.