AIB insists it’s lending to start-up firms

AIB Bank is open to lending money to start-up businesses and house hunters, one bank executive said yesterday in reply to criticism from a loan applicant.

AIB Cork central regional director John O’Doherty urged attendees at yesterday’s 30th Irish Examiner-backed annual UCC Business Conference to apply for a suite of new loan options available on the bank’s website.

However, one businessman, who asked not to be named, said he has been waiting ten weeks for approval on a €5,000 short-term overdraft facility, an application backed by a purchase order for €100,000 from one multinational client. Today is scheduled as the final day for AIB to reply to that loan request.

Mr O’Doherty said: “That is definitely too long to be waiting for a response. When it takes a customer two-and-a-half months to get an application over the line, that is a problem for me.

“Our customers want us to be professional in everything we do. We have identified lending to small business as one of our three key priorities for 2012, along with mortgages and attracting deposits.”

Mr O’Doherty also said the bank has retrained 44 experienced staff to act as dedicated SME relationship managers in his region alone.

Their function will be to engage with loan applicants, and assess the viability of their business.

AIB has seen its share of the national mortgage market grow from 20% to 40% during 2011. Mr O’Doherty said that Q4 2011 mortgage activity in the Cork region had been the bank’s most active quarter since the Celtic Tiger era.

He said the bank was equally committed to lending to small businesses. He cited the bank’s €100 million job creation fund, its €53m AIB seed capital fund, the €22m accelerator fund, and business-focused loan packages such as the start-up and the graduate accounts, with attractive interest rate offers.

Mr O’Doherty added: “I invite people to come test us. Talk to the bank. It is an urban legend that we are not open for business.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we owe our existence to the Irish taxpayer.

“We feel a strong sense of obligation in AIB to be part of the solution to the economic recovery. We want the country to recover. We know we were part of the problem, and we now want to be part of the solution,” he said.

The AIB regional director said he believed that Cork had gained a deserved reputation for entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. He cited the incubator centres such as UCC’s Tyndall Institute and CIT’s Rubicon Centre and the Ignite and Genesis programmes.

This theme was echoed by fellow conference speakers, EMC Ireland vice-president and chief executive Bob Savage, Cork Chamber chief executive Conor Healy, Tenego Partnering chief executive Donagh Kiernan and Fine Gael TD Áine Collins.

The theme of the conference was ‘Rebuilding our Nation Through Entrepreneurship and Innovation’. Sponsors included KPMG, Cork County and City Enterprise Boards, Cork Chamber, O’Callaghan Properties, Keanes Jewellers, AIB, VCE, Cork Airport and the Irish Examiner.

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