Thursday, 16 December 2021
Department of Finance
143. To ask the Minister for Finance if he has had recent discussions with the Central Bank in relation to the need to ensure adequate banking services throughout all parts of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62333/21]
158. To ask the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the widespread concerns in many parts of rural Ireland in relation to the loss of banking services; if he will ensure that the needs of rural communities are taken into account in the review of banking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62334/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 143 and 158 together.
The retail financial services sector is undergoing a major period of change. This year we have seen a number of announcements from the main retail banks in relation to their operations in the state and their branch networks around the country. While decisions relating to the business model of regulated firms are a commercial matter for the boards of those firms, the Central Bank and I expect them to take a consumer-focused approach in respect of any decision that affects their customers.
Under Provision 3.12 of the Consumer Protection Code 2012 (the Code), any bank that intends to close, merge or move a branch must:
1. notify the Central Bank immediately;
2. provide at least two months’ notice to affected consumers to enable them to make alternative arrangements;
3. ensure all business of the branch is properly completed prior to its closure, merger or move, or alternatively inform the consumer of how continuity of service will be provided; and
4. notify the wider community of the closure, merger or move in the local press in advance
Once notified, the Central Bank engages with the regulated entity to ensure the impact of the decision has been carefully considered across its full customer base and at the appropriate levels. The Central Bank expects entities to provide affected vulnerable customers with the assistance necessary to ensure that those customers can retain full access to basic financial services, albeit in many cases at another branch location.
The changes currently taking place in the Irish retail banking sector are a reflection of the wider challenges the banking sector is facing, not only in Ireland but also abroad. It is because of these changes that I have instructed my Department to undertake a broad-ranging review of the retail banking sector.
The Retail Banking Review has commenced its work and is currently in its research phase and is developing its project plan. It will be undertaking a survey of consumers in the coming months to ascertain their experience and perceptions of the retail banking sector in Ireland. The survey sample will include consumers in rural areas.
There will also be a public consultation process in 2022 where members of the public can make a submission to the Department of Finance on issues that fall within the Terms of Reference. In advance of the Public consultation the Review team will contact a wide range of stakeholders to draw their attention to the Review and to tell them that the Review team is happy to receive submissions on issues that fall within the Terms of Reference at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The issue raised by the Deputy will be considered by the Review as part of its work assessing the current landscape for the provision of retail banking services in Ireland and its likely evolution over the coming years. The team will also look at the size and structure of the sector in Ireland and in similar size open economies in the EU and the OECD to see what lessons can be learned from initiatives and practices in those jurisdictions.