Fianna Fáil TD for Meath West Shane Cassells says he growing increasingly concerned about the role banks are playing in contributing to isolation within communities.

Deputy Cassells made the comments during a meeting of the Oireachtas Petitions Committee where he questioned the Financial Ombudsman on how banks are taking the human element away from their branches.

Deputy Cassells said, “In recent years we have seen a determined effort by management at banks to remove all human interaction from banking. This has been achieved by shutting counters at bank branches, reducing the number of staff on duty and closing information desks. Banks are zealously attempting to force customers to use online banking in an effort to reduce costs and increase profit margins.

“The impact of these changes has been detrimental for older people in particular who find it difficult to access online banking. Older people rely on human interaction in order to carry out their banking, but they are finding it increasingly difficult to get to actually discuss their banking issues with staff within bank branches. Instead they are being directed to machines which simply cannot provide the same level of service as a bank official.

“Small businesses are also being hit hard as a result of the removal of human interaction from bank branches. Small business owners often approached officials in their local bank for advice and support when it came to financial issues. However now they find that they simply no longer have access to such expertise. It seems the human interaction is being reserved for large business owners or those who are very wealthy. Ultimately this is acting as another barrier to job creation, especially in rural communities.

“If the current trend continues then we could have a situation where bank branches simply no longer exist in ten years’ time. Instead people will be forced to do their banking online and there will be no one at hand when advice and support is needed or a problem needs to be resolved. It’s an appalling vista and we should all be working to prevent this. Human interaction is key to community banking and there is an onus on management to provide a proper service for local communities.”