AIB is moving 300 staff, including 143 SME specialists, to 15 newly established regional centres as part of a restructuring of its business banking operations amid concerns credit decisions are increasingly being moved away from local branches.

The bank is moving business bankers both from local branches and its headquarters in Dublin with the aim of bringing lenders "closer to customers and to where the credit requirements are".

AIB said customers want regional access to specialist lenders with large lend­ing discretions and quick respons­es to credit applications.

But it is feared the bank is joining a trend towards centralisation of credit decisions away from local branches, resulting in tighter lending. Isme, the small-business lobby, said banks are lending less and Central Bank statistics show credit contracted by more than 6% last quarter.

An AIB spokesman said the restructuring was design­ed to drive more business, especially at the larger end of the SME spectrum for which branch banking was no longer appropriate.