Banks have used a range of underhanded tactics under the guise of Covid to tear down branches, forcing people to use digital platforms instead of cash, it has been claimed.
Banks are accused of not answering the phone, understaffing branches leading to long queues and failing to quickly repair broken ATMs to entice people to bank online .
The Financial Services Union (FSU) claimed the banks were engaged in a deliberate policy to drive people away from cash payments and physical banking.
In a submission to the government’s retail banking review, the FSU said banks are failing personal customers, small businesses and their staff.
The FSU said the sale of hundreds of ATMs to private operators and the withdrawal of ATMs from a large number of branches show that banks have little interest in serving their customers.
The FSU submission referred to a survey commissioned by the Department of Finance showing that 58% of people believe banking services have deteriorated since the crash.
FSU General Secretary John O’Connell said: “Banks have used Covid and its transition to force people into digital platforms whether they want to or not.
“Understaffing in banks is chronic in banks for a reason. This creates long queues. It’s the same with phone lines.
He said ATMs were often out of service and claimed that inadequate service contracts had been made, which means restoring ATM services can take some time.
“Covid was the Trojan used to force people into digital platforms.”
He claimed banks had said they were temporarily reducing service hours during the pandemic, but had failed to restore them to pre-Covid levels.
“It’s all about denying people money and driving them online.”
Bank of Ireland and AIB have both closed 100 branches in the past 18 months, according to the document.
The submission was drafted before AIB offered plans to withdraw cash services and withdraw ATMs from 70 of its branches.
AIB’s chief executive later admitted the bank “got it wrong” amid public outcry and political criticism. The bank reversed the decision to downgrade the branches.
‘We got it wrong,’ Colin Hunt told Business News on RTÉ Morning Ireland. “The lesson for us is that we went way too far, way too fast.”
Mr O’Connell said a European Central Bank strategy paper on cash highlighted that accepting cash is essential for freedom of choice over how people pay for products and services.
“A frantic race to remove money from society without proper consideration, which seems to be happening, is not a responsible or thoughtful strategy,” the submission reads.
The FSU wants the government to put in place legislation to regulate the prices and service standards of privately operated ATMs.
The salary cap of AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB, which was put in place when they were bailed out, does not only impact senior managers, but also ordinary staff, according to the FSU submission.
Part of the salary cap prohibits variable pay. This means that banks are not allowed to finance benefits such as contributions to health insurance premiums and help with childcare costs.
This issue affects 23,000 workers, the FSU said. It even affects juniors, including those whose starting salary is €20,000.
The Department of Finance’s Retail Banking Review is due to release its recommendations in October.