Opening Bell: Apple Pay arrives, female managers, Ulster Bank closures

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The Irish Times has reported that Ulster Bank is planning to close as many as 30 of its 110 branches in the Republic of Ireland as part of a major restructuring of its Irish business.

In Northern Ireland, where it operates separately, it is believed that a number of its 65 branches could also shut their doors.

The move would reflect the greater role that digital banking is playing when it comes to service delivery to its 1.1 million customers and follow a review of operations by global consulting firm McKinsey, hired by new Ulster bank chief executive Gerry Mallon.

Staff are yet to be informed of details, though Financial Services Union (FSU) officials are set to meet management later this month for an update.

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Irish consumer confidence levels have dropped again, after a strong start to the year.

The KBC Bank/ESRI Consumer Sentiment Index for February fell 2.4 points to 100.7.

The report's authors say consumers' outlook is still cautiously optimistic.

The biggest drop in confidence last month was in relation to jobs, with the big losses at Hewlett Packard having an impact on sentiment.

Austin Hughes, chief economist with KBC Bank Ireland, said:

"We're seeing sentiment indices down in most countries for February. So there's a little bit more caution in the view of consumers but by and large there's still the sense that 2017 should be better for consumers."

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New figures show two out of every five managers in Ireland is a woman.

The Eurostat study shows 43% of managers in Irish workplaces are female, ahead of France, Sweden and the UK.

However, according to the survey female managers earn almost 16% less than male counterparts here.

The lowest managerial gender pay gap of all is in Romania, at just 5%.

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Apple Pay has landed in Ireland.

It means you can now pay for goods with your iPhone or Apple Watch in thousands of retail outlets across the country.

Your swipe should work almost anywhere that ordinary contactless credit and debit cards can be used, though you will need an iPhone 6 or more recent model. Newer iPads and MacBooks after 2012 can also be used.

There will be no additional charge for using your device, while purchasing limits are the same as those of contactless cards. 

The likes of Applegreen, Boots, Centra, Dunnes Stores, Harvey Norman and Marks & Spencer have all signed up as launch partners.