Bank of Ireland mulled leaving UK after Brexit vote, Boucher says

Decision to remain in UK market followed six-month review, says outgoing chief

outgoing Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher: acted as “Devil’s advocate” during bank’s review of UK operation. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Bank of Ireland considered exiting the UK market in the wake of the Brexit referendum result in June 2016, its chief executive Richie Boucher told The Irish Times in an exclusive interview this week.

“In June 2016 we stood back and asked ourselves a fundamental question: should we still be in the UK?,” he said. “We commissioned three investment banks to look at the options for us and we concluded over a period of six months up to the end of December that we should still have a meaningful presence in the UK, and that the route to market we’ve chosen with our partners [the Post Office and the AA] gave us sufficient flexibility to do that over a period of uncertainty.

“We presented a strategy to the board in December 2016 and the board decision was that the strategy was the right strategy.”

The UK accounts for about 40 per cent of Bank of Ireland’s balance sheet and provided important income diversity to the group following the financial crash here in late 2008.


‘Devil’s advocate’

Mr Boucher said he acted as “Devil’s advocate” during the review, to “generate a proper debate” within the bank’s leadership team. “I needed to be convinced that I could recommend to the board the right thing.”

Mr Boucher will step down as Bank of Ireland chief executive on October 1st.

He plans to take up a role as a consultant/adviser with Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings, which is led by Prem Watsa and was a key investor in the Irish bank in 2011.

“It’s not going to be a full-time role,” he said. “With my own board’s approval I’ve been involved with them on some stuff already.”

Mr Boucher said his role would involve looking at investment opportunities for Fairfax and “say if it’s a good idea or bad idea, bring it to the investment committee, and structure the deal.”

He won’t have a formal title and says he hasn’t “agreed what I’m going to get paid”.

All of his work with Fairfax will involve investment opportunities outside Ireland and he will not compete with Bank of Ireland.

On the process to succeed him as chief executive, Mr Boucher said there were four external candidates and two internals.

The role went to Francesca McDonagh of HSBC, who Mr Boucher described as: "Realistic, pragmatic. She's got a good degree of quiet understated confidence. She brings a lot of capability with her."

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock is Business Editor of The Irish Times