As it moves closer to exiting the Irish market, Ulster Bank says it is putting in place measures to ensure the most vulnerable customers are not unduly stressed by the process.
The bank is close to issuing letters to its 916,000 personal customers telling them they have six months to choose a new banker, move their account and close the Ulster Bank account. Those letters are due to arrive on doorsteps by the end of next month; some might be issued in the next week or so.
For most, moving account will be fairly straightforward. Some will already have identified where they would like to go. And Ulster Bank has held meetings with other providers – including banks, credit unions, An Post and fintechs like Revolut and N26 – so that they can be prepared for the a sudden wave of new account applications and will have to hand information leaflets on the documents required and the options available to these new customers.
But there will inevitably be some who find the whole experience more traumatic. This includes, but is not limited to, older customers, including some who might now be in nursing homes.
Ulster Bank says it is setting up a dedicated customer phone line “for those in vulnerable situations” 12 hours a day, seven days a week as well as beefing up staffing in its vulnerable customer unit and ensuring trained staff are available in each of its 88 branches in the State .
Customers who the bank is aware are vulnerable will, it says, receive calls offering support once the letters have been sent out.
But it is not just the elderly and infirm. Ulster also promises an online financial portal for those in financial difficulty and “steps”, albeit unspecified, to help those suffering financial abuse to regain control of their finances.
And the bank promises translation services in its branches for customers whose first language is not English, a welcome, if ambitious, service for a group that may be most disoriented by the whole process.
All these measures, which will be introduced alongside the issuing of letters, are welcome. Unfortunately, vulnerable customers have not been waiting calmly over the past year since the bank announced its intention to wind down its Irish business.
Many have been fretting about their bank affairs and the next stages of the process. The bank will argue that it needed clarity before it could open its support structures but, looking at it from their vulnerable customers’ perspective, even the reassurance of a dedicated helpline back in February 2021 would have been welcome.