Ulster Bank ‘won’t close branches’

ULSTER Bank has committed not to closing any of its 236 branches or to raising its variable mortgage rates any time soon.

The move, part of a series of 15 customer “commitments”, includes a pledge to open about 45 branches on Saturdays, resulting in another 80 jobs being created. In 2009 over 40 branches were lost as the group, part of the Royal Bank of Scotland, integrated First Active, the former building society, into its core operations.

Mike Bamber, chief executive retail markets at Ulster Bank, said: “We are doing this because we recognise that banks need to change and we want to put the priorities of our customers at the heart of what we do.”

Through extensive research Mr Bamber said: “We’ve listened to thousands of consumers, taken on board their suggestions and responded with these commitments which we hope will begin to address many banking concerns.”

Due to the current downturn, resulting in declining incomes and rising unemployment, 5% of the bank’s mortgage book is in arrears, while another 4% of customers have “signalled they need help in dealing with their loan repayments”, Mr Bamber said.

The bank is due to bring out a new charter to deliver better banking to its business customers.

Mr Bamber refused to comment on that initiative or what it will do to counter the serious lack of credit threatening the future of thousands of businesses.

He said he was confident for the future while acknowledging “this is the toughest crisis I have ever seen”, having lived through a number of downturns during his banking career.

Next year be “difficult” with little obvious improvement likely for the economy or jobs he said.

“I am optimistic for 2012”, he added, when he expected the economy to start showing signs of life.

On the future Mr Bamber said the bank was not “trying to get ahead of itself” but “we have to deliver a damn site better than we have in the past”.

The new strategy is “a signal of intent” and is intended to hold us “accountable” in the future.

“We do have to get back to basics”, he said.

In the first half of 2010 Ulster Bank reported losses of €376 million, having been hit by a massive bad debt hit on its property loans of almost €600m.


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