Ulster Bank could close 30 Irish branches

Services in rural Ireland are further under threat...

Ulster Bank is contemplating greatly reducing its physical presence in Ireland as part of a major restructuring of the financial institution's business here.

The Irish Times has reported that as many as 30 of Ulster Bank's 110 branches in the Republic are under threat. It also states that a number of its 65 branches in Northern Ireland – which are operated separately – 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 here and would 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 officials from the Financial Services Union (FSU) are set to meet management later this month for an update. A deal between the two would involve voluntary redundancies and possible redeployment opportunities.

The news this morning has been tied in with a new Government report recommending the closure of 80 post offices around the country as presenting a potentially major double blow to rural services in Ireland.

FSU general secretary Larry Broderick told The Irish Times that Ulster Bank's plans would have a "devastating impact" on staff and customers, adding:

“I would be hopeful that the bank would not proceed with branch closures."

An Ulster Bank spokeswoman stated that no closures have been announced and that such matters are kept under constant review.

The bank has been struggling to reduced its cost/income ratio, which came in at 116 per cent last year, compared with 78 per in 2015.

Last month, Ulster Bank reported that this ratio was 116% for 2016, up from 78% a year previously.

It posted a €24m operating profit for 2016 – down massively from the €362m taken in 2015.

Litigation costs accounted for €229m of a significant hemorrhaging of money, the majority of which was associated with the Central Bank's tracker mortgage probe.

Commenting on the full year results, chief executive Gerry Mallon said:

"We acknowledge where we could have done better and are focused on putting it right for our customers," referring to the bank's treatment of policyholders affected by the tracker mortgage scandal.

“2016 was a year of solid progress for Ulster Bank, enhancing our competitive positioning and building a simpler, safer, more sustainable bank.