Resignation of BoI boss moves spotlight off AIB

THE chief executive of the country’s second largest banking group sensationally quit his position over the weekend after being caught accessing adult websites in breach of company guidelines.

Bank of Ireland boss Michael Soden announced his resignation on Saturday after a newspaper had posed a series of questions to the bank about his use of computer equipment at the group’s headquarters in Dublin.

The shock announcement came in a move that partially deflected attention from AIB which has been rocked by a series of overcharging and tax scandals in the past few weeks.

The controversy which hit Bank of Ireland emerged after a new software system installed at its head offices in Baggot Street to monitor internet usage by staff linked Mr Soden’s computer to a website containing adult material.

Tests conducted last week established that he had accessed the website of a Las Vegas-based escort agency on a number of occasions over the past few months, according newspaper reports. It is understood that he had viewed the material, which contained some nudity, via the computer in his office on the seventh floor of Bank of Ireland’s HQ.

The 57-year-old executive discussed the issue with the bank’s chairman, Laurence Crowley on Friday and formally announced his resignation the following day. In a statement released to the media, Mr Soden said he has resigned from the €1.3m job “for personal reasons.”

He confirmed that the content of the internet site had breached the bank’s own policy on use of computers. However, Mr Soden stressed that the website was not illegal, but admitted that its content did contain links to “material of an adult nature.”

His dramatic resignation comes just weeks after the Small Firms Association warned employers that the problem of e-mail and internet abuse by staff was costing companies more than €300m per annum.

The SFA claims many companies could face legal action if they fail to have adequate safeguards in place, especially as a survey revealed 57% of firms had no anti-abuse policy on the use of computer equipment.

Announcing his resignation, Mr Soden said he left the Bank of Ireland “with considerable regret” and apologised for any embarrassment which his actions had caused the group.

“For this reason and because I believe that leaders of organisations should be measured by the highest standards, I have made this decision,” said Mr Soden.

In a statement, the Governor of the Bank of Ireland Laurence Crowley said the bank’s board of directors had accepted Mr Soden’s resignation with regret.

“Mike has made an enormous contribution to the group since he took up position as group chief executive in March 2002. He is leaving us having placed the group in a position of solid strength for future growth,” said Mr Crowley.

A bank spokesperson declined to comment on whether the group had asked Mr Soden to reconsider his offer to resign. Although the bank’s guidelines contain a range of sanctions, it is believed Mr Soden’s use of the internet did not constitute an automatic sacking offence.

Details of any severance package have yet to be discussed by the bank’s directors, he added.

The bank said it expected to announce Mr Soden’s successor as chief executive later this week. It is widely anticipated that his replacement will be an internal appointment. Favourites to take over the top position include head of retail banking, Des Crowley and the group’s head of asset management, Brian Goggin.

Despite a long, career in major financial institutions around the world, Mr Soden’s three-year term at Bank of Ireland was characterised by plans for mergers which never materialised.

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