Natwest Group's Ulster Bank Northern Ireland, which is remaining in operation even as its sister company in the Republic is being wound down, said on Thursday it is closing nine further branches later this year as it moves to reduce costs with customers increasingly banking online.
The move will reduce the lender’s locations to 35, down almost 60 per cent from the 85 branches it had at the start of the financial crisis in 2008. Ulster Bank will continue to have the largest network in the North after the latest planned closures, which will take place between September and October.
“As with many industries, most of our customers are shifting to mobile and online banking, because it’s faster and easier for people to manage their financial lives,” a spokesman for the bank said. “We take our responsibility seriously to support the people who face challenges in moving online, so we are investing to provide them with support and alternatives that work for them.”
About half of Ulster Bank Northern Ireland’s customers are said to now bank entirely digitally.
All closing branches are within one mile of an ATM, while the company's partnership with the Northern Ireland Post Office will enable customers to withdraw and deposit cash in any of the postal service group's offices.
The branches slated for closure are in Holywood, Warrenpoint and Comber in Co Down; Dunmurry, Antrim, Ballymoney and Larne in Co Antrim; Maghera in Co Derry; and Clogher in Co Tyrone.
NatWest accompanied its February 2021 announcement that it was winding down its Ulster Bank operation in the Republic by reaffirming its commitment to Northern Ireland. The UK banking giant's separation of the Ulster Bank businesses in the Republic and Northern Ireland in 2015 has made it easier for the group to push through its plans.
Ulster Bank Northern Ireland's announcement comes after Danske Bank Northern Ireland said last week that it was closing four additional branches later this year, reducing its network to 28. Bank of Ireland and AIB also shuttered branches in the North last year.
Financial Services Union general secretary John O'Connell described the Ulster Bank decision as a "shock to a lot of people and will cause huge distress for staff and local communities".
“The rationale given for these closures does not stand up to scrutiny,” he said. “If banks continue to cut services, you leave people with no choice but to use digital platforms. There are many people who are unable for varied reasons to bank online.”
Mr O’Connell added that Ulster Bank Northern Ireland has “put profit before people and shown a complete disregard for communities and particularly older people and vulnerable people who will be without banking services due to this announcement”.