THERE are major fears over the future of rural AIB branches this week, after staff were told to expect closures.
More than 300 bank staff across 18 branches in County Limerick were last Friday told of the nationalised bank’s new strategy, which will involve a reduction in the number of branches, and their merger with local post offices instead.
Allied Irish Bank (AIB) branches which serve customers’ traditional needs are expected to go in the cuts, which sources have indicated are between 60 and 90 nationwide.
Instead, customers will be asked to carry out many of their banking needs online, with only basic services available at local post offices.
In future, branches will be used to conduct the more complex business transactions.
It is the first time AIB has explicitly spoken of branch closures, and the news has been met with fear across the county, with Doon, Hospital, Croom, Kilmallock and Castletroy just some of the branches which could to be affected by the cuts.
The IBOA finance union is seeking an urgent meeting with AIB management, while local councillors here have warned of a “devastating” effect on communities.
The news of branch closures comes in the wake of a redundancy programme, where 2,500 jobs are expected to go at the bank.
Pallasgreen-based councillor Mary Harty said she fears for the future of the branches in Doon and Hospital.
Any closure, she said, “would have a devastating effect on both villages because they have already lost a number of businesses over the years. But the loss of a bank and the business it brings to the village each day would be substantial. It is more than our rural villages could take in this economic climate.”
Labour councillor David Moloney, based in Kilfinane, said the closure of the Kilmallock branch would force his constituents into a 45-mile round trip to get to the AIB branch in Limerick City, or they would have to cross the border to reach the branch in Charleville.
He said: “People in Kilmallock and Kilfinane rely on these kind of facilities, and if these banks are not seen as being viable anymore, it would force customers into a journey to Limerick City, Cork or Tipperary.”
Councillors believe it may prove difficult to put rural AIB branches in local post offices, because of the sheer size of them.
Seamas Sheils, spokesman for the Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA) said the strategy document did little to calm the fears of workers.
“It was the most wide-ranging, but least substantial statement possible,” he said.
He called on AIB to show some fairness by stating which bank branches will close to give staff a chance to make an informed choice about whether they want to take voluntary redundancy.
He said the bank’s insistence that technology is the way for customers to work with them is misplaced - particularly in light of the Ulster Bank fiasco.
A spokesperson for AIB said no branches had yet been identified for closure. No timeframe is in place for this decision, she added.