Access to bank branches remains a key priority for many small businesses, so today’s announcement by Ulster Bank that they are to close nine local branches has been met with concern by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
In County Down, the Kircubbin branch is also to be put under the axe.
The FSB’s research report entitled:
sets out that the impacts of branch closures are wide-ranging and include the reduced ability to manage cash flow and productivity for small businesses (e.g. time spent travelling further to access banking services in another branch). Furthermore, lower footfall in local high streets and town centres has had a negative impact on the broader economy.
The pace of branch closures has been increasing rapidly, with Ulster Bank’s announcement swiftly following First Trust’s statement that they are to close 15 branches throughout Northern Ireland.
Wilfred Mitchell, FSB Policy Chair for Northern Ireland said: “Small businesses use their bank branches for a wide range of services, often playing an important role within local communities in smaller rural areas, such as Garvagh and Kircubbin, particularly through relationships built with banking staff. In research undertaken by FSB NI with the Ulster University Business School in 2013, it was shown that having access to a local branch was one of the most important drivers of banking satisfaction for our small businesses.”
“One of the primary reasons cited for the Ulster Bank branch closures was an increase in internet banking, however our members have stated that they place a high value on the availability of branch networks for face to face contact. Small businesses often require guidance and, depending on their financial knowledge, direct advice from their local banking provider.
“FSB urges that cash transactions and bank branches not be regarded as hindrance to technological development or customer behaviour changes. We are supportive of banks incorporating greater digital technology into their branch network, however the branch must be used as a space to educate and assist small businesses on access to new banking services.
“Without this support, a number of SME’s will continue to resist or feel less confident using this technology.”