A cross party delegation from Mid Ulster District Council has met with the Head of First Trust Bank, Des Moore, following the recent announcement that branches are to close in Cookstown and Magherafelt this summer.
Both towns have been included in a closure plan which will see 15 of the 30 existing branches disappear from high streets across Northern Ireland, as First Trust Bank consolidates its network in the face of changes to how customers access banking services.
At the meeting, Councillors expressed disappointment with the decision and their concerns about potential job losses and the negative impact on both town centres, as well as the challenges faced by customers accessing online banking services with a lack of reliable and fast broadband in Mid Ulster.
The importance of ensuring both personal and business customers fully understand the alternative banking arrangements available to maintain continuity of customer service was also central to the discussions.
Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Trevor Wilson, who led the delegation, said:
“We welcomed the meeting and the robust discussion on the impact of these closures, primarily on staff and the affected customers.
“We received assurances that the bank is committed to a voluntary led approach and are currently in consultation with the Financial Services Union. We also noted that First Trust intends to engage effectively with its customer base to ensure a smooth transition to the new operations.
“I would encourage customers to get in contact with their local branch to discuss any problems or concerns.”
Speaking after the meeting Des Moore, Head of First Trust Bank said;
“Due to changing customer behaviours and a sizeable decline in branch usage over recent years we recently announced our reshaping and investment plan and welcomed a discussion of these changes with representatives from Mid-Ulster Council.
“We outlined the steps we are taking to minimise the impact on customers and assured the Council of our commitment to ongoing communication to help customers through the transition.
“We are keen that customers have time to understand all the alternatives available to them. As well as direct communication with all customers we will be hosting a number of branch-based events in in the coming weeks to answer any specific customer queries and further explain the options available to them.
“We are partnering with the Post Office and customers will be able to access the 500+ Post Office network for their everyday transactions. We are also doubling the hours of our customer telephone banking service which will now operate 8am to midnight 7 days a week to facilitate many routine transactions. Our investment in digital channels will continue, bringing a wider range of services online at a time and place that suits our customers.
“For our business customers, we will be investing in two local business hubs in Dungannon and Ballymena, which will bring local decision making and expertise closer to our customers. This will be supplemented with a new dedicated Small Business Centre to specifically support our smaller business customers.
“Our changes are designed to ensure a sustainable business model for the years ahead which allows us to support our customers and the wider Northern Ireland economy.”