Irish banking in ‘turmoil’: Union calls for forum to review sector

11 Mar 2021

Image: © Pavel Losevsky/

Fintech, digital services and closures have all upended the way that Irish banking operates and FSU says the industry needs to take stock.

As Irish banking undergoes significant changes, the Financial Services Union (FSU) has published a paper calling for a vast reassessment of how the industry serves its customers.

The FSU represents employees in the financial services sector in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

With Ulster Bank’s exit from the market and Bank of Ireland closing 103 branches around the country, the union is seeking to establish a forum to examine the state of banking in Ireland and whether it is fit to serve a rapidly changing economy and society.

In a survey conducted for FSU, 76pc of people said that they were in favour of some kind of forum for all stakeholders to have their say.

FSU’s paper seeks a review of international and European banking trends and the level of public trust in the banking sector, as well as issues of financial exclusion and banking culture and ethics. In the case of the latter, the recent controversies at Davy have highlighted lingering problems within the financial services sector.

One of the core tenets of the paper is the impact of digitalisation on banking, from the use of AI to the closure of branches and ATMs.

Physical branches and cash have dwindled in their prominence with the emergence of digital banking services but, as Bank of Ireland’s plans to close 103 branches showed recently, many customers are still reliant on branches in or near their locality.

More than 80pc of respondents in the survey said that having a local bank branch was important or very important, especially for older age groups.

“The banking sector in Ireland is in turmoil, with redundancies and branch closures announced by a number of banks in recent months,” John O’Connell, general secretary of the FSU, said, pointing to the moves by Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland.

“The provision of, and access to, banking and financial services are core to the future prosperity and wellbeing of people across Ireland, north and south. Providing these services well is crucial,” he said. “Getting them wrong, as we know from experience, can be disastrous. In-depth debate about the sector is therefore essential.”

Changes in business practices, government policy and education are all necessary for people and businesses alike, he added.

FSU said a forum is under consideration by Northern Ireland’s finance minister, Conor Murphy, and it is calling on the Irish Government to follow suit.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin