Withdrawal of Ulster Bank, KBC and branch closures negatively impacting services

Central Bank launches discussion paper to kickstart an upcoming review of State’s consumer protection code

The withdrawal of Ulster Bank and KBC from the Irish market combined with branch closures by other retail banks has had a negative impact on services for consumers and small businesses, the Central Bank has said.

Publishing a discussion paper to kick-start an upcoming review of the State’s consumer protection code, the regulator said access to cash services “and access to a personal interface and advice” had been impacted by recent structural changes in the retail banking market here.

“Affected customers must move to alternative service providers and potentially use alternative channels to access basic banking services where they no longer have access to a local bank branch,” it said.

The bank also said it was monitoring “the current mass account migration process” arising from the looming exit of Ulster Bank and KBC from the Republic.

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Less than a quarter of the current and deposit accounts that were open at the beginning of the year in Ulster Bank and KBC Bank had been closed by the end of August despite both banks preparing to leave the Irish market.

The regulator said it remained focused on ensuring that all affected customers are supported by firms through the entire process of transition. “Consumers require appropriate levels of product and service availability and choice to meet their financial needs,” it said.

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Conversely the regulator highlighted the emergence of new entrants and changes to how financial services are delivered, noting these changes “have enhanced availability and choice in some areas”.

Non-bank entities account for more than a quarter of new SME lending, and 13 per cent of new mortgage lending, it said.

Speaking at the launch of the paper, Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland Gabriel Makhlouf said: “The next decade is likely to involve rapid change in our economy driven by technology, by an ageing society, by the need to respond to climate change, and by the move to different ways of working.”

“The financial services sector itself is already undergoing transformational change driven by innovation and changes in consumer preferences,” he said.

Welcoming the publication, umbrella group Brokers Ireland said it presented “a real opportunity to introduce, for the first time, regulation that is proportionate to the level of risk organisations pose to consumers, one that would be in keeping with the Central Bank’s own PRISM (Probability Risk and Impact System) risk rating system that categorises brokers as low risk.”

Brokers Ireland chief executive Diarmuid Kelly said it would help consumers to interact with brokers in a way that protects them and also better enables them to focus on what is really important in the communication and not be overwhelmed by excessive data.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times