"Over the last decade we have seen a large number of bank branches closing in our towns and villages across Northern Ireland indeed across the whole of the United Kingdom. Bank branches were regarded by many as being very much part of the social fabric, especially in rural areas. I like many, am concerned about the impact bank branch closures will have on elderly and vulnerable people, who may be less likely to use online services, and independent businesses in our towns and surrounding villages.
I have raised with the Secretary of State the need for financial institutions to look at how they can develop more banking hubs across Northern Ireland. The first banking hub was recently opened in Kilkeel. The banking hub concept is a shared service that operates in a similar way to a standard branch, with a counter service run by Post Office staff where customers of almost any bank can withdraw and pay in cash, pay bills and carry out regular transactions. There are also private spaces where customers can speak to someone, with trained specialists from different banks available on different days. Given the cost of living pressures that persist there is a need for support being available to customers regarding their finances and is a vital service.
We need to see banks signing up to offer more of these hubs across Northern Ireland, while they are not exactly the same as each individual bank having a location on the High Street, it is better than no presence whatever. It also would help in the seemingly relentless move towards a 'cashless society'. Hopefully both the Secretary of State and the financial institutions thermselves will act to protect both customers and small businesses alike."