Cashless bank services a danger for ‘financial elder abuse’

Advocacy group for older people concerned about impact of closures on rural communities

The curtailment of branch banking services, including a switch to “cash-only” days may make it harder to pick up on the financial abuse of elderly people, according to advocacy groups.

Age Action Ireland was responding to an announcement by Bank of Ireland that as many of 100 of its branches will no longer accept cash or coins at the counter from the end of this year.

As part of its digital strategy, the bank is converting a growing number of traditional branches to an ‘advice and self-service’ model, with plans for about 40 per cent of its 250-strong branch network to be cash-free by the end of this year.

Customers will be able to lodge or withdraw cash from self-service machines within the affected branches, but will not be permitted to withdraw sums over €1,300 or transact foreign currency and coin services within these branches.


Justin Moran, head of advocacy and communications with Age Action Ireland, said the organisation regularly heard from members about the closure of, or restriction to, bank services. "We are disappointed that the banks are going in this direction," he said.

While the charity appreciated that banks had to make a profit, they were also services in a community. The reality was that the majority of people over the age of 65 had not been on the internet, never mind having reached a level of comfort where they were happy to do their financial business online, Mr Moran added.

They were usually comfortable dealing with staff in bank branches with whom they had developed a level of trust. “This is important, particularly in terms of dealing with financial elder abuse,” Mr Moran said.

Two years ago, Age Action worked on a project funded by Ulster Bank under its community impact fund to raise awareness of the dangers of financial elder abuse.

Some 493 Ulster Bank customer service staff were surveyed about their experience of elder financial abuse and 45 per cent said they had dealt with suspected cases.

Head of communications and public affairs with Active Retirement Ireland, Peter Kavanagh, said it was an issue the organisation would have to take up with Bank of Ireland. "This is a huge blow to people for many reasons and it's not just an age thing," he said.

Mr Kavanagh noted there were many parts of the country that did not have proper broadband, making it difficult for people to carry out their banking online.

Rory Cleary from Dungloe, chairman of Active Retirement Ireland's north west regional branch, said people in the area had been badly hit by bank closures and service curtailments.

He noted that the Bank of Ireland branch in Glenties, which is one of four in Donegal that will become automated, was the only bank in that village.

“So there are no banks left at all. That’s going to be a problem for anybody who’s disadvantaged – for older people, younger people, disabled people. It’s going to be a massive problem where the nearest bank is probably here, which is eight to 10 miles away.

Mr Cleary said there was also very little transport available in rural communities. He noted the Ulster Bank branch in nearby Ardara was also due to close in September. The nearest bank might then be in Killybegs, Dungloe or Letterkenny.

“But for a lot of older people and for disabled people it’s not easy to get around. And then you’ve got the closure of the post offices, the closures of the shops . . . then what happens? The community starts to die and I think that’s the biggest concern for a lot of people that the rural community in Ireland is starting to fragment really badly.”

Donegal TD and Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said it was "inevitable" that removing or reducing cash services would lead some people to return to dangerous "under the bed " deposits.

“It is simply about maximising profit regardless of the social impact,” he said.

Mr Doherty urged Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to "flex his muscles" on the issue before leaving office.

“His silence is as good as a nod in this case. Rural Ireland in particular will be affected as yet another service is effectively removed. Government talk about revitalising rural Ireland really does ring hollow when we see how banking services are being systematically stripped away from towns and villages.”

Mr Doherty noted the banks were due before the Oireachtas Finance Committee over the coming weeks. "We should be clear though that the banks are getting away with this because of a political nod from government. With the pending sale of AIB the banks will only be further emboldened to drop any pretence of providing any social element to the community."

“Cashless’ branches include:

Bank of Ireland
- Blackrock, Co. Dublin
- North Circular Road, Phibsborough, Dublin
- Merrion Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin
- Howth Road, Killester, Dublin
- Bundoran, Donegal
- Blackpool Shopping Centre, Blackpool, Cork
- Mainguard Street, Galway
- Jetland Shopping Centre, Caherdavin, Limerick

Ulster Bank
- Grafton Street, Dublin
- Liffey Valley, Dublin
- Raheny, Dublin
- Swords Pavilions, Dublin,
- Winthrop Street, Cork