THE decision taken by Bank of Ireland to withdraw counter services at four County Limerick branches for two days in the week has been described as “a further blow for rural communities and in particular the elderly”.
Account holders can no longer meet staff face-to-face and cannot make lodgements or withdrawals from them on Wednesday and Thursday in branches in Kilmallock, Bruff, Askeaton and Rathkeale.
“Everything is being stripped back. People are losing faith in the banking system and they are reverting back to Credit Unions again,” explained Cllr Mike Donegan from Kilmallock. “It is another blow to rural Ireland particularly for the elderly who are being forced into a way of life that they are not familiar with,” he added.
Bank of Ireland has introduced a new self-service lodgement device in branches for business and personal customers that will accept lodgements of cash or cheques five days a week. “Whilst there is a move to self-service options two days of the week [Wednesday and Thursday] the branch remains staffed at all times,” said a spokesperson for Bank of Ireland.
The move was communicated by posters in branches rather than in personal letters, a decision which Askeaton-based Cllr Kevin Sheahan said greatly annoyed customers. “I have heard about the decision from very annoyed, disappointed and angry customers. It appears that it was sprung on them. They just went to the bank as they would normally do and this new system was in place,” he said.
A number of days after the system was introduced, Cllr Sheahan said, he heard complaints from people that there was “a big, long queue in Askeaton”. “The machine wasn’t working properly and there wasn’t staff in situ in the morning to deal with the consequences of that but matters seemed to have improved in the afternoon. That was about two weeks ago,” he explained.
While he acknowledged that staff are on hand to assist the elderly with the new technology, he said “they still find it difficult to take on board what they are shown”.
“Personally, I haven’t seen it and I haven’t had to use it but I have heard enough complaints about it and it is obvious to a blind man that this is the first step to more banks closing. If it’s not, then somebody should say so because the ordinary people will believe that it is - so they should remove the rumour by making a very clear statement that the bank is not on a short list for closure and I am talking specifically about Askeaton in this instance,” he said.
The spokesperson for Bank of Ireland said they will work very closely with all their customers at branch level to support them during the change. “The increased efficiency and technology improvements will allow Bank of Ireland to maintain a local presence on a more cost efficient basis through a full nationwide direct branch network,” said a spokesperson who added that there are no compulsory redundancies as a result of this change.
Speaking last November, the regional manager of Bank of Ireland, Gerry Reeves, insisted the bank has no plans to follow the example of other banks which have closed rural branches. He said they will not be closing any of their rural branches in towns and villages across Limerick.