News that Coalisland is to lose its only bank has been met by strong criticism from local politicians, who have described it as a massive blow to the area.
The First Trust will close its doors to customers by December 5, with any permanent staff transferred to other roles within the company.
The growing use of internet banking has been given as one of the reasons behind the move, but the area’s MP, Francie Molloy, says it represents a “downgrading” of the town, as the second largest within the Dungannon Council Borough.
Meanwhile, SDLP councillor for the town, Malachy Quinn, rejected the company’s statement about online banking and said the branch has a largely elderly customer base.
A spokesperson for First Trust Bank explained customers will be informed of the move 12 weeks prior to the closing date, and insisted accounts will not be affected.
A customer helpline will also be set up to manage the move, while the five permanent staff will be redeployed elsewhere within the company.
Speaking about the news, Francie Molloy, the Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster, told the TIMES: “This will be a massive blow to Coalisland, to the businesses and to the people of Coalisland who depend on being able to have access to their accounts in their own town.
“This is the only bank in Coalisland and when you look at a smaller town like Stewartstown which still has the Ulster Bank, you have to wonder at the rationale behind this decision.
“I understand that things have changed with regard to more people using the Internet for banking, but there are still significant numbers of people who depend on their bank and want to have access to it.
“This sends out the wrong message to the people of Coalisland, as the second largest town in the Dungannon Council area.
“It is one town which has seen continued growth in the engineering sector, and I think this move has been badly thought out. This move does not give Coalisland its right place as a big industrial town.”
Cllr Quinn described the closure as a “bitter pill to swallow” and accused the company of “abandoning” the people of Coalisland.
“First Trust can explain the rationale behind this closure with regard to responding to the ways in which the internet and digital innovation are changing how people bank”, said Cllr Quinn.
“However, many of the bank’s customers in Coalisland have been very loyal to them, and will be deeply disappointed that the branch is closing. This bank has a large percentage of elderly customers, many of whom are not computer literate, and have no wish for virtual banking. Customers like to visit the branch and the have an opportunity to interact with helpful staff.”
The SDLP representative added: ““The personal touch in banking locally still means a lot to people, but obviously not to First Trust which has abandoned its customers in Coalisland.
“Banking is not just about satisfying shareholders, it is about providing an ever-changing service to people and particularly those in rural communities who already feel their way of life is being challenged. This is a real blow for the town.”