Job losses in loss making Irish banks have, regrettably, become familiar and unavoidable events. They represent an inevitable adjustment to a new banking model: one that is smaller in scale, has lower overhead costs and increasingly relies on online banking for transaction activity. Banks, therefore, need fewer staff and no longer require an extensive branch network. Ulster Bank, which more than a year ago announced 950 job losses, has now added a further 345, while also cutting a further 44 bank branches that brings the total due for closure to 66. As yet, it is unclear – where in the Republic and Northern Ireland – the branch closures and job losses will occur.
Perhaps the best that can be said for Ulster Bank’s announcement is that it reflects a strong and welcome commitment by its parent, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), to remain in Ireland, as Ulster Bank sets about returning to profitability over time. Ulster Bank’s latest results show an operating loss of £1.04 billion, and RBS – which is 80 per cent owned by the British Government - has already put €15 billion into the loss-making bank.
Banking worldwide has undergone a huge change in its method of operation in recent years. This is partly in response to the global financial crisis, where the activities of banks face greater regulatory scrutiny as they struggle to regain the trust of customers.
It also reflects the huge investment in technology that banks have made to enable their customers to bank online. Online banking offers customers an efficient, convenient and cost-effective way of transaction their business. However, as we are now seeing, that change comes at a social cost. The closure of bank branches will be concentrated largely in rural Ireland and leave parts of the country without adequate banking facilities.
An Post and the credit unions may well be best placed to take advantage of the commercial opportunities branch closures by Ulster Bank and other domestic banks now present.