A WARRENPOINT branch member has slammed the decision of Ulster Bank to close its bank, while Independent Councillor Mark Gibbons said it is a crippling blow for the community.
Councillor Gibbons, who is a life-time Ulster Bank member is incensed about the decision to close the branch and is concerned for those who work in the branch.
“This is a crippling blow for the people of Warrenpoint, especially the elderly, vulnerable and local businesses,” Councillor Gibbons said.
“Online banking is great, but nothing beats that one on one customer support when you are not online or tech savvy.
“I have been an Ulster Bank member all my life and the staff and services have always been brilliant.
“My thoughts are with all the Ulster Bank staff as they try to deal with this sad news also.”
A Warrenpoint branch member who asked not to be named said she is disappointed with the decision.
“It is only a short walk for me so the convenience and service is the main reason I bank with Ulster Bank. I am not happy it is closing down and it is only going to cause problems for me,” said the Warrenpoint resident.
“I know people who have worked there for years and I am concerned for them. It looks like I will have to go to my local Post Office or the branch in Newry or Belfast and that is way too much hassle.
"Banks have been an important part of Warrenpoint and the lack of face-to-face service is something I will miss.”
Also lamenting the closure of the Ulster Bank in Warrenpoint is SDLP Councillor for the area, Karen McKevitt.
She said it was the last bank operating in the local area and was leaving people with few banking options without travelling.
It follows on from the announced closure of the Danske Bank branch in Kilkeel last week.
Councillor McKevitt said: “It’s deeply disappointing that Ulster Bank have decided to close their branch in Warrenpoint. This was the last bank branch operating in the area and means that anyone who wants to do their banking in-person will face significant travel to do so.
“While I appreciate this decision will have been partly caused by changing trends and people moving to online banking this is not the case for everyone. Many people, particularly older generations have yet to make the transition to banking online and I know many local people will be concerned about how they will carry out their banking transactions going forward.
“Following this closure my thoughts are with the staff impacted and I will be liaising with them to find out exactly how they will be affected.
"While I understand the need to move with the times and modernise local banking practices, going forward we need to establish a way of banking that allows everyone to access vital services in a way that’s right for them, otherwise we face the disappearance of physical banking in towns and villages across the North in the years ahead.”
Ulster Bank said: "We've recently announced that we're closing some branches. There are many ways you can continue to bank with us.
“The way people bank with us has changed dramatically in recent years, with an increased demand for mobile and online services as customers benefit from a faster and easier way to bank.
“Closing a branch is a decision we take very seriously. We know it can affect people who are less confident with the alternatives we offer, and we'll always work hard to guide you through the changes and find the best way to serve you from now on.”
The Consumer Council is urging Ulster Bank customers to review their banking needs following the announcement of the closure of nine branches later this year.
Jenny Redman, Head of Financial Services at the Consumer Council, said: “Whilst many consumers are choosing to access their banking services through the internet, apps and over the phone, there are still many who rely on face-to-face banking through their local branch.
"Our research shows that 21 percent of consumers have been affected by a bank branch closing in the last three years, with almost half of those affected saying it had a major impact on them and the local community.”
Consumers can continue to visit their nearest Post Office to pay in cash and cheques, withdraw money, and check their balance. Basic banking services is something the Post Office provides for all banks in Northern Ireland.
“Before each branch closes, we would advise customers to think about their needs and preferences and liaise with their local branch to discuss the options that are available to them. If the bank is unable to meet these needs, consumers may wish to switch their accounts.
“The Consumer Council is continuing to monitor the impact of branch closures across Northern Ireland and is working closely with the financial sector to represent consumers.”
The Consumer Council’s website has a number of free resources to assist consumers. Consumers can also get in touch with the Consumer Council for free independent advice by calling Freephone 0800 121 6022 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.