Ireland’s Cash Users Triumph as Bank Abandons Planned Cashless Branches
Allied Irish Banks’ (AIB) recent announcement that 70 of its 170 branches would become cashless was met with outrage from politicians, local businesses and rural communities alike. Responding to strong, widespread calls for it to reconsider the move—led by Ireland's Prime Minister Micheál Martin—AIB has now agreed to retain cash services at all 170 branches.
AIB claimed it was responding to ‘declining demand’ for cash services, and intended to refocus the branches on account opening, mortgages and loans. Recognising ‘the customer and public unease that [the cashless proposal] has caused’ it scrapped the plan shortly after announcing it, emphasising that the policy reversal is permanent and not a temporary reprieve.
There are significant cohorts of people, businesses and towns across Ireland, who need [cash facilities], and I do believe AIB and the banks should take notice of this.
Independent.ie reported ‘huge anger and frustration’ across County Kerry, which would have seen five of its branches become cashless. The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) is also among those who spoke out against the changes, saying the move would have a ‘severe impact’ on its members across the country. Michael O'Donovan, who chairs the VFI's Cork branch, told RTÉ that around 40 percent of business at pubs is conducted in cash.
Our members [would] be forced into a situation where they [would] have to carry cash for longer distances and then wait in larger queues as the branches that [did] remain open become busier.
VFI called on AIB to reconsider the change, saying a significant portion of its members’ trade was cash-based. Chief Executive Paul Clancy believes local communities ‘deserve a proper banking service’ and expressed concern that people would have to travel much further, driving up both costs and environmental impact.
Michael Healy-Rae, an independent politician who represents Kerry in the lower house of the Irish Parliament, described AIB’s cashless plan as ‘a devastating blow’, most especially to rural communities. He notes that while AIB had partnered with local post offices in an attempt to smooth the transition, this would not have provided a realistic alternative to bank branches.
This [would be] a devastating blow, not just to the business community but to everybody, because our banks provided a service that we appreciated, we wanted, but we also bought into… Our memories aren’t so short we can’t remember that we the public bailed out AIB… We bailed them out, and now they’re abandoning us.
Mattie McGrath, an independent politician representing Tipperary, called the idea of widespread cashless bank branches ‘ham fisted’ and said he would be keeping ‘a very close eye’ on the matter in addition to calling a meeting of rural independent representatives with the Central Bank to discuss it further.
Minister for Finance Pascal Donohoe welcomed AIB's decision to abandon its plans, noting the ‘significant public reaction’ to the prospect of reduced cash services.