Irish banking charges cheaper than Britain

A SURVEY of business banking charges claims Irish business charges are cheaper than those in Britain.

The survey, conducted on behalf of the Irish Bankers' Federation (IBF), found in 17 out of 20 charges measured, Irish businesses paid less than those in Britain.

The figures were dismissed by the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises association (ISME) as a "PR stunt". The main focus for businesses was interest rates, which ISME chief executive Mark Fielding said were higher in Ireland.

The IBF survey found for most money transactions, Irish banks were highly competitive compared to British counterparts. The survey found for writing a cheque, Irish business were charged 36 cent compared to 81 cent on average in Britain.

IBF president Diarmuid Bradley said yesterday that business customers were benefiting from competition and charges had been lowered in recent years. He said claims customers were being ripped off were unfounded.

"The suggestion that there is a 'cosy club' operating here is not true. We have a highly competitive banking market with 10 players and businesses are benefiting from this," he said.

But Mr Fielding poured cold water on the survey, saying it was highly selective and while charges appeared to be lower, the key figure for most small businesses was the rate of interest, which was not covered by the survey.

IBF claims that competition in the banking sector here was hotting up was backed up yesterday by the ratings agency Fitch, which said in a report on the Irish market that profits will be hit by intense competition.

It said competition, especially from British banks, "is having an increasingly significant impact on the profitability of the domestic Irish banks".

"The growing competition is putting pressure on margins and the banks' ability to grow their balance sheets, increasing the need for the banks to focus on cost efficiency as a means of maintaining reasonable levels of profitability."

Fitch highlighted Royal Bank of Scotland's takeover of First Active and Bank of Scotland's move into retail banking as drivers of competition, as will the likely demutualisation of Irish Nationwide, which it said will allow it to "compete more effectively with the larger banks".

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