Banks nose ahead in battle for business


There may be confusion among individual analysts on the level of the price increases in the house market, but one thing is certain: values are not falling.

Doubtless this is comforting for property owners, although those seeking a foothold in the market face ever-increasing pressure.

And for banks and building societies, continued growth in the market is good news. According to the Central Bank, for example, the lending institutions loaned £167 million to residential buyers last June. Total lending in all sectors was 24.3 per cent higher than in June last year, the Bank said.

But while this - and ever-rising prices - suggests the market is indeed healthy, the Bank does not break the figures down between individual lenders. Neither does the Irish Bankers' Federation nor the Irish Mortgage and Savings Association, the trade group for building societies.

This is also the case with mortgage lending figures supplied by the Department of the Environment and Local Government.

However, Goodbody Stockbrokers estimates that the six top lenders enjoyed the following market shares in 1998, the last year for which data is available: Educational Building Society, 19 per cent; Irish Permanent, 18 per cent; Bank of Ireland, 15 per cent; AIB, 14 per cent; First Active, 10 per cent; Irish Nationwide, 10 per cent. Goodbody Stockbrokers is a subsidiary of AIB Group.

Given strong demand and competition in the market, there is every possibility that these figures have changed since 1998.

For example, the latest data from the Department of the Environment and Local Government for the first three months of the year gives a strong indication that the banks may be nosing ahead of the building societies in the battle for new mortgage business.

Some £2.08 billion in mortgage loans were approved in the January-March period, according to the Department.

The banks secured 76.2 per cent of this business, with the building societies taking 23.8 per cent. The bank figures include lending for the former building society, First Active, and the Irish Permanent, which now trades as Irish Life & Permanent.

Figures from 1995 to the first quarter of this year show that the banks lost mortgage business as the economy began to surge forward and the property boom began in earnest. In the past two years however, their share has increased again although it remains below that of 1995.

The building societies had only 19.5 per cent of the mortgage business in 1995. But this increased to 23.4 per cent in 1996 and rose again to 27.7 per cent in 1997. The building societies' market share dipped slightly to 27 per cent in 1998 and fell again to 26.1 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, since 1998, the banks were gathering strength. Quarter-by-quarter figures from 1999 show they had a 72 per cent share in the first three months of the year, but increased this to 75 per cent in October-December.

As customers of the leading banks and building societies - and those of newer entrants such as Bank of Scotland (Ireland) - well know, there is no shortage of literature detailing various payment options, plans and interest rate charges.

For some, deciding on a lender will boil down to the plain fact that one institution will grant a loan while another will not. Other borrowers may be more concerned about pricing, or the availability of telephone and Internet banking services.

All the lenders will offer options to pay fixed or variable interest rates. Other product-specific options are available, although these depend on the individual lender. Here, there is no substitute for homework and, if possible, solid professional advice.