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The part Kenny show on news talk with Marter private network during current restrictions. Don't ignore your health concerns. Our expert team is ready to help. Bank of Ireland has announced it's to close 103 branches in the Republic and Northern Ireland, saying that the increased use of digital banking has reached a tipping point. The branches will close from the end of September. Following the closures, there will be 169 branches left in the republic. In other words, a third are to go at 13 left open in Northern Ireland, which means more than half of their branches are to be shut down.


But the bank has agreed a partnership with Unposed that will see the post office offer Bank of Ireland customers banking services.


Abbey of AI Group chief executive Francesca McDonagh spoke to News Talk Breakfast about the whole thing this morning.


Customers want more digital and they want fewer branches and they're voting with their feet. So we're closing branches. We're retaining a nationwide presence of one hundred sixty nine. And also we're announcing a new partnership with us today to enable all Bank of Ireland customers to use any of their outlets to do banking as well. And no branch will close until September 2021.


You say this has been driven by customer demand, but there will be some customers, particularly less digitally savvy ones, who will be worried for sure about being, you know, what they might see as being cut off from their banking news of a local branch closure is always going to be very disappointing.


And I understand how that would be felt in the local communities. And that's why we're ensuring that no town, no village where we operate will be left without access to financial services or cash, whether that's through one of our ATMs, a nearby branch or an online post office, which one of which of 500 metres away from the branches that we're closing. And I think it's also important to note that in the last 12 months, only three out of four customers from those closing branches have actually stepped foot in the branch.


And this isn't just about kind of a change. We were seeing this move away from branch and towards digital in the years before pandemic.


Now I'm joined by Jeff Mashad Labour Tiddy, the party's spokesperson, unfinanced public expenditure and reform. And we'll also talk to John O'Connel, general secretary of the Financial Services Union. But, Jed, first of all, what's your reaction to this?


Because the bank of laydown, the logic behind their decision, you know, their logic and truth, and I don't think any banking institution in this country really is in any position to properly assess the health of their business and the extent of, you know, what their optimal branch network might be at this very unusual set of circumstances that we have at the moment. The context of that pandemic. Because of that, it really is my view, and I've said this time and time again that there should be a moratorium placed by the central bank and the minister of finance on bank branch closures until such time as we can have a proper assessment of what the optimal number of branches are and what the landscape of our future banking network should look like.


Because what we really need is to establish what the Financial Services Union has termed a forum on banking. I'd support that concept would be based largely on forum. I established a couple of a couple of things, a couple of things.


First of all, they're saying, you know, unposed will fill the gap because they're in all these towns and they've checked out that anyone they're closing. There's a non post office within 500 metres. That's what they say. The second thing they say is that three quarters of the people who are customers of these branches haven't set foot inside the branch in recent times.


So in other words, the voting with their feet and using their phones or ATMs where many customers over the last over the last year, the cover of darkness last March and probably understandable given the public health crisis we were facing, the bank closed unilaterally, quite a number of branches, and a lot of that was only partially reopened. And the concern I have is in relation to, you know, full service banking is at the central bank as the regulator has been practically silent on this in the UK.


They should close a branch considering branch closures. You must engage with them. You must have a 12 month consultation period with the community and introduce, you know, the concept. We need to introduce the concept here of impact assessments on communities when banks do decide that they wish to close branches and there should be a logic and rationale for that set out with full engagement. At the moment, these decisions are made from the central bank.


Is it too late for the central bank to do anything about this? You know, the way you can't regulate in retrospection, you've got to regulate for the future. Is it too late for the central bank to say, hang on a second, Bank of Ireland, we let Telstra bank go, we're not going to let you do this?


No, it was a very tumultuous period for banking in this country. And that's why we need that holistic consideration of interrogation, of what sort of banking system and services we need in this country. It's not too late for the central bank to put a halt to this. In this case, they have been the watchdog that has passed the Financial Services Union and others like myself have reminded the bank of their obligation in terms of branch network, of a central bank, of their obligation, in terms of the sustainment of branch networks over the last period of time.


What we have in this country is a weak code of practise that only obligates a branch to a bank to notify the central bank two months in advance of any changes to opening times on arrangements. That needs to change. And we need to have a much more holistic view of the value of banking in our society.


Yeah, but the question is, can they do it now or is it too late?


Can the central bank put in retrospective rules, which is not retrospective because this decision, while it's been taken by the bank, these changes have in fact been imposed. Yet the CEO, Bank of Ireland has indicated that it will be September before any closures take place at the bank, unfortunately chose not to engage at all with their staff. They didn't share the terms of reference of this review with their staff, who are anxiously waiting at their laptops this morning to find out, you know, on which branches these will actually fall.


And that's another way to run a business.


OK, David, thank you very much for joining us. Jed Nagesh, Labour Party and party spokesperson for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. John O'Connell, general secretary of Financial Services Union, has been listening to that conversation. John, what's your reaction? Much of what Jan said, I'm sure you go along with.


Yeah, I go along with everything that I had said, but ferocity of it, you know, it's even starker than that because we believe it's punishing communities who have adhered to government guidance in terms of Colvard and the bank are using that. And that is what they've said as a justification to reduce services in communities across Ireland. Now, John, isn't the problem, though, that like all of us, you know, who've had to work from home, move out to bank from home, who've had to shop from home with deliveries, we've all learnt to live a different way.


And perhaps the bank are recognising that we'll never go back to trudging down the main street and trudging into the bank when you can do it on your laptop, on your tablet, on your phone.


A lot of people value the interaction with skilled, regulated bank staff. And if you've ever had an I.T. glitch, you value with all the more. And on average in the U.K., there's 580 glit glitches a week in banking. So in terms of having an alternative, we see the future of being a blended alternative where people who want to do branch banking have that access and where people want to do it digitally, equally can do it that way. This is perhaps the Bank of Ireland second attempt to close these branches, to close them in March, put out the reason that it was staffing related, subsequently announced that they had a surplus of 450 staff.


So it couldn't clearly have been staffing related to reopened the past time. And now today make this body blow of an announcement in relation to that.


Again, in fairness to them, they're not on the line here with us. And they gave the interview to Governor McGlocklin on RN Breakfast and they will say, look, these are one or two person branches.


If you look at the numbers that would whose jobs would go 200 people. And yet there's 103 branches. So they are very small branches. They're not in any sense of the word full service branches. I mean, you might find a body there. There'll be ATMs inside. You can, you know, insert a cheque into a machine to logit. But the person will probably help you with financial services. If you want mortgage protection or if you want to enquire about a mortgage, they're more or less, you know, front of house relationship managers rather than bankers say.


I think the communities that enjoyed the service at the moment might disagree with that a bit. They valued the service, whatever that service is in terms of the premises and having the ability to go to the premises and do to do their business. So in terms of the alternative post office, that's complimentary with the other banks. So it wasn't used as a guys to kill off branches as it is being in this case. It's complementary to the service and and we welcome it as complementary.


We don't welcome it as a ruse to close branches.


Yeah, I mean, if the technology was absolutely superb and, you know, user friendly, but recently with online accounts, Bank of Ireland have added added security with mobile phones. And sometimes you're timed out when you're trying to do business on your mobile phone. I have personal experience of that. So it's you know, it's not perfect yet. And I imagine people who are not tech savvy would find it frustrating in the extreme.


But, you know, this is the tide of of history in terms of banking. It is going digital. There are people who've got a mortgage online who do all their banking online who have never been inside a branch. That's the reality.


So so Ireland isn't in the in the, you know, in the forefront in terms of broadband and digital services. We're actually in the fourth quarter alone, according to a recent report. So we're not digitally mature enough to be able to wipe out almost 40 percent of a branch network and say, Dariya, there's online services. Even if you look at Bank of Ireland's telephony service on their website today, they say that it's available nine to five, not weekends.


And so they have limited, limited telephony service. So the options for people who aren't digitally literate outside of those hours is to go on to Twitter and Instagram and other platforms.


But in fairness, though, can I just say jump? They don't open the branches outside of those areas anyway, do they? So, you know, if you're a classic banker, your bank user and you're not digitally literate, you have to go for these ridiculously narrow banking hours anyway.


Well, in these branches, in the 80 branches that they reopened, half time to staff were inside those branches in the afternoon. And they could we actually call for them to reopen the branches fully. The staff are available and in the branches behind closed doors, which to me is an indicator that this was the bank's intention all along, regardless of what the data says. All right.


We'll see how it unfolds. There will no doubt be a lot of conversations about the decision by Bank of Ireland to close down more than half their branches in Northern Ireland and almost 40 percent of their branches in the Republic of Ireland. But John O'Connel, general secretary of the Financial Services Union, thank you very much for joining us with.