IFA Farm Business National Chair Rose Mary McDonagh says the banking sector is again abandoning the farming community and rural Ireland in the wake if AIB’s decision to withdraw cash services in 70 branches across the country.

The recent announcement that 40% will no longer be offering cash and cheque services at the counter, or through machines inside the branch by 21st October. No form of cash transactions including notes, coins, cheques, foreign exchange, bank drafts; drop safes; night safes or external ATM’s will be available at these branch locations. When you add this to the already cashless AIB branches, that’s more than half of the 170 AIB branch network that will be cashless in the coming months.

“At what point does a bank become irrelevant? AIB must be sailing close to the wind at this stage for Irish farmers and rural dwellers,” Rose Mary McDonagh said.

AIB’s reasoning for this is reduced demand for cash and cheque services, and the huge rise in digital banking.

“How else could demand be anything other than down with Covid-19 lock-downs gripping the country for the last number of years and the Banks closing branches or withdrawing services left, right and centre,” the IFA Farm Business National Chair added.

“It just suits their wider agenda and if past history tells you anything the move is probably only a precursor to eventual branch closures, which must not be allowed happen,” she said.

“The Central Bank, and indeed Government given that AIB is a majority state-owned bank, need to intervene now to protect economic activity and the social fabric of rural towns, villages and its citizens.”

“Offloading bank services to An Post just isn’t acceptable. Don’t get me wrong, having An Post and the Credit Union’s there to pick up the pieces as AIB abandon rural communities indeed certainly helps, but many of their offices just aren’t set up for traditional banking interactions,” she said.

Significant investment and added resources will be needed to more fully support the farming community, and I’m not only talking here in terms of capital investment in their infrastructure/network to facilitate more secure/private financial transitions, but also improved financial offering to the SME market and in turn a competitive nature.

“There is huge financial pressure, uncertainty and worry among farmers at the minute. Farmers across all sectors are being hit by an array of spiralling input costs, which are eroding already low margins for most. Farmers need to know that their financial provider is there for them when needed and that they have a range of low-cost finance options to meet their personal and business financial needs.”

“In the past, farmers could rely on localised in-branch knowledge and expertise. Now, you’d hardly know anyone in the bank. Bank officials don’t know farmers or understand their business either. If you are not on hold on the phone for hours, your driving miles to your nearest branch now and this is unacceptable.”

“The diminished level of competition, and indeed traditional service provision, is a particular cause of concern – particularly among our most elderly and vulnerable members. Banking is a hassle now for many,” Rose Mary McDonagh concluded.