FIRST Trust Bank is set to close its branch in Larne this summer, in what has been described as “another disappointing blow” for the town.
The bank announced that its Main Street branch, which employs seven staff, will close on June 14 as part of “ongoing restructuring”. All business is to be relocated to the Carrickfergus branch.
The news, which comes less than a month after Bank of Ireland announced it was also pulling the plug on its branch in Larne, has been met with shock and dismay by local customers, traders and civic leaders.
And East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs has even urged existing First Trust customers to consider switching their accounts to another bank in the wake of the announcement.
The Ulster Unionist representative said: “Very recently, the Bank of Ireland announced it was closing its branches in Larne, Carrickfergus and Ballyclare. I said then that the bank – which is headquartered in the Republic – was effectively withdrawing from East Antrim. Now First Trust, which are also closing in Ballyclare, are following suit.
“The reasons given by the two banks are the same; fewer over-the-counter transactions, and increased use of online banking.
“Whilst it is not my position to advise people where to put their money, I would ask the question: if these banks are showing no loyalty to the residents of Larne, should the people of Larne continue to show loyalty to these banks?
“A wider issue is that two prominent Main Street sites in Larne are going to become vacant, which is a very unwelcome development. Bank staff will be made redundant or relocated, and fewer people will be in the centre of town to spend money in the shops and cafes on a daily basis.”
Businessman Mark Dobbin, who sits on Larne Traders’ Forum and is himself a lifelong customer with First Trust, told the Times: “It is simply ridiculous that another bank has decided to pull out of Larne, without a care for the loyal customers in the area who have banked with them for years.
“I have personal and business accounts with First Trust, and would go into the branch on a daily basis to lodge money. People talk about using internet banking, but you can’t lodge a cheque through your computer. There is no chance that I am going to drive into Carrickfergus every day, so I have no option but switch banks.”
The Times spoke to a number of First Trust customers about the decision to shut the branch, and the majority confirmed they would be switching to another bank in the town.
One woman, who has banked with First Trust for over 40 years said: “I am very disappointed at the decision to close the branch in Larne. The staff here are very friendly and helpful, and almost everyone in my family has an account here. But we don’t use internet banking and it is just not practical to have to travel Carrickfergus just to go into the bank.”
East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said First Trust’s decision was “merely the latest in a disappointing run of branch closures across East Antrim”.
He added: “Many people still rely on the services offered by their local branch. While there are an increasing number of online services, there are those who prefer to deal in person with a member of staff.
“East Antrim has been disproportionately affected by the decisions of different banks to restructure their services. They must ensure that customers are fully aware of the online and phone services available and safeguard the area’s remaining branches against closure.”
A spokesman for First Trust said staff currently employed at the Larne branch will be offered redeployment to an alternative location, or could be eligible for voluntary redundancy.
“Each employee affected by these closures will be consulted with on a one-to-one basis to discuss their options,” he told the Times.
In a statement the bank said the closures will not affect customer account numbers, sort codes, or the existing operation of their accounts.
“Customers will receive a letter explaining that their accounts will be automatically transferred to the nearest alternative branch which offers a full range of banking services,” the statement read.
“A dedicated helpline number will be provided for customer queries and staff will work closely with customers to establish their individual banking needs and to minimise any inconvenience resulting from the transfer to alternative branches.”
Branches at Cregagh Road (Belfast), Ballyclare and Limavady will shut in May, while outlets in Larne, Holywood and Fortwilliam (Belfast) will close the following month.