Consumer Council welcomes NIAC Report but NI Banks need to do more for their customers

in Money Affairs

The Consumer Council has welcomed the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) report on the banking industry in Northern Ireland, which shows that banks in NI need to do more for their personal and business customers.

Rachael Cray, Head of Money Affairs at the Consumer Council said:  “The Consumer Council was the first organisation to provide evidence to the committee about the banking structure in Northern Ireland.

“We expressed particular concern over access to banking services. Northern Ireland has lost over 30 per cent of our ‘Big Four’ branch network over the past couple of years and there are further closures on the horizon. Indeed, one of the conclusions from the committee was that some banks here have shown relatively little concern for their customers by pursuing plans to close local branches, and this is not always appropriate in rural areas despite many customers now banking on-line.

“Our recent research showed that having access to a local branch is still important to the majority of consumers, with 68 per cent visiting a branch of a bank at least once a month. 

“While there has been an increase in online banking, it was also stated in the report that many banks’ IT systems are not fit for purpose. More work needs to be done to ensure that IT systems are robust, and that physical services remain for those who cannot or choose not to manage their money this way.

“The report highlights issues with access to finance, particularly for Small and Medium Enterprises.  Bank branch closures mean that businesses in the community are also losing access to general and daily banking services, such as lodging takings or obtaining change.

“The solution is not a straightforward one, and we hope that this investigation marks an important step towards improvements in the banking system in Northern Ireland.  The Consumer Council has recently undertaken research into the role the post office and other financial institutions can play in providing access to banking facilities in communities at risk of becoming financially forgotten due to multiple bank branch closures. We will be working with the banks, the NI Executive and other stakeholders to encourage a more collaborative approach to ensure that access to financial services is maintained, and that consumer needs are met."

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