AIB chief has his hands full as he seeks creative solutions to grim problems

Whatever about the figures AIB can trot out, it is all about its mortgage arrears

David Duffy, AIB chief executive, speaks at the AIB annual results press conference. Photograph: Eric Luke

David Duffy, AIB chief executive, speaks at the AIB annual results press conference. Photograph: Eric Luke


First we had Bank of Ireland, then Permanent TSB and yesterday AIB opened its accounts to public scrutiny. It was a similar tale to the other two. Yes, it was loss-making and yes, its net interest margin is too low.

It goes without saying that it has too many loan arrears on its books and its tracker mortgages are costing it money.

However, the pace of new arrears cases is slowing, losses have been trimmed and with a fair wind at its back, a return to profitability is within sight.

It is also giving out bucket- loads of cash to SMEs and the reliance on funding from the European Central Bank is easing.

Next on the agenda is mortgage arrears. AIB’s suave chief executive David Duffy offered some reassuring statistics about the “solutions” being offered to customers who are in arrears.

He plans to exceed the targets set down recently by the Central Bank for agreeing proposals with distressed borrowers by the year end.

Nonetheless, 9 per cent of residential mortgage holders are in arrears of more than 90 days and 17.7 per cent of buy-to-lets. About one-third of its near €90 billion loan book is classified as impaired.

It is grim stuff that will require some pretty creative solutions and a lot of time to resolve.

To be fair to Duffy, the cross- currents around the multitude of issues facing the bank at present must make it an almost impossible job at times.

At the same time as sorting out its problem loans, Duffy is trying to trim the workforce by 2,500, find a solution to its pension deficit and motivate those staff left behind who haven’t already been worn down by the past four years to put a smile on their face and sell products to those customers who have still have money to spend.

He is also trying to get subsidiary lender EBS back into the game after a few years spent marking time.

In the background, he has to deal with the Government as his shareholder and the European Commission as his ultimate overlord, while also trying to persuade capital markets that the bank is well on the road to recovery.

There is then the cohort of politicians and interest groups pushing for mortgage debt forgiveness. Duffy was singing from the same hymn sheet as Richie Boucher at Bank of Ireland and Jeremy Masding at Permo on this issue yesterday.

There will be no blanket debt forgiveness or write-offs. Some customers might eventually get a writedown on their loans but it will only be after every avenue for repayment has been exhausted and, of course, it will be on a case-by-case basis.

At least AIB customers on split mortgages will not have to pay interest on the amount that is put into cold storage. Small comfort perhaps but a break from what the other State-involved banks are doing.

Duffy’s aim is to get back as much money as possible from borrowers so the bank can get back on its feet and possibly pay back some of the €20 billion loot it has received from the State. It will be a long road.

AIB took some time yesterday to remind us all of its size and scale in the Irish market. Based on operations in the republic, AIB sees itself as the biggest financial institution here.

For example, it wrote 46 per cent of all new mortgages issued last year. It has 40 per cent of personal current accounts, 38 per cent of credit cards and tags itself as the number one player in the Irish corporate market.

These are nice statistics to trot out but none of it will mean much if it can’t sort out its mortgage arrears.