Analysis: AIB has work to do to emulate B of I escape act

While there has been progress, there is a sense AIB hasn’t quite nailed it yet

It has been a tale of two banks and their chief executives this week, with AIB and Bank of Ireland both releasing their 2013 annual results.

Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher received ringing endorsements from Wilbur Ross and Prem Watsa, two of his biggest external investors, for having moved the bank to the point where it is profitable, generating capital and almost out from under the skirts of the State.

Just five years ago there was a storm of controversy over his appointment to the top job given his senior role within the bank during the property bubble years. Not any more.

Over at Bankcentre, David Duffy was letting the media, and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, know he'd be happy to stay on when his contract expires at this end of this year, and on the same terms.


By that point, Duffy will have been with AIB for three years, and he will need the nod from the Minister to complete what he always thought would be a five-year turnaround project.

Contract renewal
There's no suggestion Duffy's contract won't be renewed and he has achieved much in his time at the helm. It is also worth remembering that the problems at the bank were not of his making.

Yet there is still a sense that AIB hasn’t quite nailed it yet. The revolving door at executive level continues to spin.

Chief operating officer Anne Boden, who was a key hire by Duffy and was charged with leading the digital charge within the bank, quietly departed some weeks back while Mark Bourke will take up the post of chief financial officer next month, having quit a better- paid job at listed group IFG.

Chairman David Hodgkinson has had his contract renewed for this year yet the dogs in the street know that the bank has been out looking for a replacement for some time.

And AIB misjudged the public mood when lobbying Government recently for the bonuses or long-term incentives, as Duffy described them yesterday. Its outsourcing plans, driven by Boden, don’t sit well with staff.

In terms of performance, Duffy has managed to increase income and reduce provisions.

Mortgage arrears
The pace of mortgage arrears slowed in the second half of last year and he deserves credit for putting the issue of strategic default on the agenda, much to the annoyance of various politicians and commentators.

He should also be praised for the pilot with the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation to deal with arrears cases. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Yet AIB’s net interest margin remains an anaemic 1.37 per cent, when Boucher has passed the 2 per cent level coveted by bankers in this low interest rate environment.

In the end, however, Duffy’s time as chief executive will be judged on his ability to return the bank to the black and to repay the State for its €20.8 billion bailout. He has opened talks with the Government on tidying up the capital structure by switching the preference shares into equity.

Stress tests
If he negotiates the euro-wide stress tests later this year and deals with the contingent capital notes held by the State, it could clear the way for external investment before the next general election in 2016.

The wheels are being put in motion. It’s now down to Duffy to execute the strategy.