The removal of ATMs and bricks-and-mortar bank branches would prove “detrimental to the economic and societal wellbeing” of Irish communities, according to a draft report on developments in the banking sector.
The review document, produced by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, also addresses the potential for rising interest rates to further squeeze those struggling with cost-of-living issues and seeks ongoing updates regarding the withdrawal of KBC and Ulster Bank from the Irish market.
“This report is not about money; it’s about how much a government will allow its people to be mistreated by powerful institutions and the central and very responsible role bankers, including our Central Bank, and other professionals in our society have,” wrote committee chair John McGuinness in a draft version of the report.
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The final report, due to be published on Wednesday, lists 15 recommendations around addressing issues that made headlines throughout last year including the treatment of customers during the tracker mortgage controversy.
Allied Irish Banks (AIB) last July reversed its decision to close numerous cash services, including ATMs, in several branches across the country following a public backlash.
Decline of cash
The bank had noted, the report said, that Covid-19 accelerated the decline of cash and reduced the number of people visiting branches, as they opted in many cases for increased digital banking. It reported a 35.3 per cent reduction to in-person customer transactions between 2019 and last year, and forecast transaction volumes would fall further this year.
“While acknowledging that fewer customers are using such services, the provision of these facilities remains vital to those remaining customers, including vulnerable and elderly customers and those in rural and small communities,” the report states, adding that it was “vital” such groups retained access.
“The committee is of the view that the availability of physical bank branches providing cash services are a vital component of communities, businesses and households, and believes that the provision of such facilities should be appropriately available to all communities.”
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Addressing recent interest rate increases by the European Central Bank, the committee was concerned this would “likely bring further pressures to households and businesses” and recommended that banks consider the impact on customers, particularly given current cost-of-living and inflationary pressures.
Regarding the withdrawal of Ulster Bank and KBC from Ireland, which it said was “one of the most significant developments in 2022″, the draft document notes ongoing concerns and recommends that the Central Bank report regularly to the committee on co-ordinated measures to protect affected consumers.
In 2015, the Central Bank began its review of tracker mortgage accounts brought about by banks unfairly denying customers tracker mortgages, resulting in overcharging. It ultimately led to multimillion-euro fines for the lenders.
“The committee has significant concerns at the culture within lenders which allowed for such actions to take place, and which caused significant damage to customers,” the draft report notes.