The bank said the decision to shut eight branches later this year comes as customer demand for branch banking diminishes, a trend accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The branches set to close are in Bangor, Coleraine, Glengormley, Kilkeel, Lisburn, Lurgan, Newcastle and Omagh and all will shut on November 12.

It said the closures will be managed in line with its regulatory commitments and in consultation with the Financial Services Union.

Staff will be offered alternative opportunities where possible or voluntary severance.

AIB currently employs around 900 people in Northern Ireland and around 50 of these work in the branches impacted.

The Financial Services Union described the bank’s announcement as a scandalous dereliction of its societal role and called on it to revisit its decision.

However, the bank has defended its decision, blaming it on a range of factors.

“We are operating in a very competitive and challenging landscape, with the added impacts of low interest rates and the pandemic,” said Brian Gillan, Head of Retail & NI at AIB.

“This backdrop coupled with the continued shift from branch usage towards digital banking has necessitated this strategic review.”

“The ‘digital first ‘customer transition, which has been an industry-wide trend over the past four years, has accelerated dramatically due to the Covid-19 pandemic as even more people adapted to online platforms.”

The lender said it had seen the number of active customers using its branch network in the north fall by a third, with a corresponding 52% increase in digital online payments in the last four years.

Despite the closure plans, the bank said it will continue to provide personal and business customers with a full-service offering.

It also plans to enhance its mortgage and business lending services.

“The bank will continue to serve customers in its seven remaining branches and is dedicated to ensuring continuous improvements to its overall digital experience for customers, through developing remote account opening for new personal customers and a digital mortgage offering,” it said.

It will also enhance its partnership with the Post Office which allows customers to do everyday banking transactions in any of the more than 500 outlets across the north.

The bank said all of the branches closing have at least one post office within one mile of them.

The company is now to write to impacted customers to advise them of the changes and of the alternative ways they can bank in future.

“Banks should be assisting customers and small businesses in recovering from the effect of Covid not adding to their worry and stress levels by withdrawing vital services from communities,” said John O’Connell, Financial Services Union general secretary.

“There is no need for Banks to make these decisions at this time. They are using statistics drawn from a period of societal lock down which cannot and should not be relied on to judge future customer behaviour.”

He added that change is happening in the sector at a rapid pace and if banks are allowed to lead that change, we will end up without a banking infrastructure that will serve all people in society.

Chief executive, Colin Hunt, recently told an Oireachtas committee that a review of a small number of overlapping urban and suburban branches in the Republic of Ireland is also underway.

However, he also committed to the bank retaining a substantial branch footprint here.

AIB currently has around 185 branches in the Republic of Ireland.