Bank of Ireland wields the axe at Bristol & West

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The Independent Online

Bristol &Amp; West, the former building society, has had a quarter of its branches closed, as part of a drive by Bank of Ireland, which owns the business, to revive its profits.

Bristol &Amp; West, the former building society, has had a quarter of its branches closed, as part of a drive by Bank of Ireland, which owns the business, to revive its profits.

Bank of Ireland, which bought the mortgages and savings business in 1997, has also cut a fifth of its staff, bringing its payroll down from 1,340 to 1,100. Its network of branches has been cut from 132 to 99.

Unveiling an 11 per cent rise in profit to €1.27bn (£850m) in the 12 months to 31 March, Bank of Ireland also said it had brought the axe down on staff numbers at its chain of independent financial advisers, Chase de Vere.

Roy Keenan, the head of Bank of Ireland's UK financial services division, said: "We bought three IFA businesses in 2000 and 2001 and we paid too much for them. We have now rationalised them."

The bank said it had cut Chase de Vere's staff from 850 to 500 last year, reducing its costs by £15m. Mr Keenan said the reductions meant Chase had broken even, with the potential to contribute profits to the group from next year.

Bank of Ireland, which with Allied Irish Banks dominates the Irish market, raised its profile in the City in October 2002 when it tried to snap up Abbey National. However, the move was peremptorily rejected by Abbey's board.

Mr Keenan said Bank of Ireland was no longer looking for a transformational acquisition on the mainland. It has injected £135m into a joint venture with the Post Office, under which the bank's products are being sold through the Post Office's 16,500 branches.

Bank of Ireland hopes the deal will add £200m to annual profits within the next five years. That will significantly boost the amount of earnings it makes from the UK, which currently stand at 30 per cent of group profits.

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