Irish Examiner view: Naive to expect more from banks

Banks' exit
Irish Examiner view: Naive to expect more from banks

generic stock business banks Ulster Bank Cash machines, cornmarket, Belfast

The fact that Ulster Bank and KBC are pulling out of the Irish financial market reduces competitiveness in the sector going forward, which is bad news for competitors. 

Online operator Revolut, not without its own customer service problems in recent months, is soon to offer Irish IBANs, which is at least a boost to consumers seeking a wider range of options.

Revolut’s news is welcome given the nature of Ulster Bank and KBC’s exit, which has not been without problems one might describe as symptomatic of the banking sector.

Yesterday, for instance, we learned that over 50,000 accounts in the two banks have not been closed, including thousands which receive social welfare payments. 

The banks themselves have described some of the remaining account holders as ‘vulnerable’ and the KBC CEO says it is focused on taking care of priority customers, including vulnerable account holders and those over 65.

It must be acknowledged that the departure of the banks has been well flagged across all media, and the need to move accounts has been well publicised. 

In fact, there is a noticeable contrast between the brisk announcements advising that the two banks mentioned above are exiting the market, and the usual vaguely aspirational - and steadfastly ungrammatical - slogans of the remaining financial institutions.

However, the candour of the exiting banks’ rhetoric isn’t uniformy encouraging. Ulster Bank, for instance, has announced its intention to ‘freeze’ these remaining active accounts as a last attempt to engage with the account holders. 

If put into operation this sounds like less than exemplary customer service, particularly as Ulster Bank itself had to admit last September that business account owners were slow to switch banks due to the sheer complexity of the process.

It’s not entirely clear why the banks intend to freeze thousands of accounts at the stroke of a pen rather than engaging with those account holders on an individual basis.

After all, if an account holder falls behind with their mortgage payments or fails to repay a loan banks soon find the staff and resources to deal with the matter on a focused, case by case basis.

Considering the appalling conduct of banks in Ireland over recent decades, perhaps it’s naive to have expected better of these two financial institutions.

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