Irish high street bank AIB is set to discontinue cash services at 70 of its branches in a move that has caused an outcry in rural Ireland.
While the decision will be welcomed in some circles as a step towards digital banking, it has also been widely criticised for leaving customers in rural Ireland without a source of cash for several miles.
The news was announced as part of a €40m investment programme that included an extension of the bank's alliance with An Post, the national post office service.
While the AIB at An Post initiative will offer the bank's customers cash and cheque services via 920 post offices, 70 bank branches will be "repurposed" with an emphasis on account opening and digital services.
The bank has also pledged to recruit 500 digital staff before the end of the year and to launch an education programme to promote digital banking.
AIB’s managing director of retail banking, Jim O’Keeffe, said the move to reduce cash services was down to a decline in demand and a rise in the use of digital services. “How customers want to bank with us is undergoing a huge transition as digital usage is soaring," he said.
Consequently, the cost of maintaining cash and cheque services at all branches is becoming "increasingly unsustainable" stated the bank.
Ireland's retail banking sector is currently dealing with the exit of two of its five high street banks - Ulster Bank and KBC Ireland.
And while AIB is retaining its status as the firm with the country's largest bank network with 170 branches, which includes a branch in 95% of locations that Ulster Bank and KBC are vacating, the withdrawal of cash services has been lamented by rural groups.
The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) stated that the move had led to “huge disappointment”.
President of ICMSA, Pat McCormack said: "While a lot of transactions are now online, the reality is that cash is still hugely important in the rural economy, for small country businesses and for the older generations in particular, the use of cash is critical and the local bank was hugely important in terms of accessing cash and doing the normal day-to-day transactions.
“People are also concerned that the loss of cash services is just another step towards closure of the branch and it is important that AIB provide guarantees that this is not the case,” said McCormack.