KBC moves first as banks put on the naughty step

Regulator getting increasingly annoyed as customer stress levels rise

The exasperation of the Central Bank at the less than wholehearted efforts of banks to manage the extraordinary scale of customers moving with the imminent closures of both KBC and Ulster Bank has been loud and clear.

When the bank’s governor chooses to state in public that the industry is not ready for the onslaught facing it, you understand there has been resistance to its more gentle urgings in private to allocate more resources to the exercise.

This week’s strongly-worded notice – and a summons to a round table with the regulator – must disabuse all of the banks that their current approach is sufficient.

More than a million accounts need moving and, as the Central Bank said, “it is clear that a number of concerns are emerging for consumers”. Pointedly, the bank went on: “The purpose of this letter is to reinforce and, to any extent necessary, clarify the application of the expectations” of the regulator.

“While recognising the challenge an exercise of this scale represents, it is also clear that, in terms of the banks’ overall plans, more needs to be done.”

Longer notice period

KBC on Friday became the first of the Irish lenders to accept that its approach to date has not been sufficient. It has now decided to double the notice period it will give its 130,000 customers to complete the relocation of their current accounts.

Increasingly attention will focus also on the arrangements put in place by the three institutions that will remain in the market – AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB – to handle the coming tsunami.

All five banks are members of the Irish Banking Culture Board, an industry group established in 2019 to work towards regaining public trust after the financial crash and the banks being caught red-handed trying to rip customers off over tracker mortgages.

Its mission has been to work towards cultural and behavioural change with, inter alia, the aim of achieving fair customer outcomes and supporting their staff.

Widespread reports of customers being given dates far into the future for appointments to discuss opening accounts – never mind triggering the actual process – and a reported lack of engagement and information have left both customers and staff highly stressed.

It would seem the banks and the culture board have some way to go on another of its targets – rediscovering banks’ reputation for competence.