Ulster Bank says compensation is under review


ULSTER BANK said last night that the issue of financial compensation for 100,000 of its customers adversely affected by ongoing technical issues was now under review.

Calls have been made for the bank to suspend the bonuses of its most senior executives, postpone plans to introduce bank charges for current account holders and pay compensation to everyone who has experienced difficulties accessing funds.

The chief executive of the Consumers’ Association of Ireland, Dermott Jewell, said the bank’s apologies were completely insufficient and it would need to financially compensate affected customers.

“It must come up with a meaningful goodwill gesture both by way of apology and as a calming measure,” he said.

He suggested that the bank could abandon plans to introduce charges on its current accounts or freeze all ATM charges for a period.

Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins echoed Mr Jewell’s comments and called on the bank to withhold bonuses from senior staff and freeze charges.

“In the interest of fairness, I am calling on Ulster Bank to postpone all bonuses to senior management and refrain from imposing any bank charges on customers until January 2013,” she said.

An Ulster Bank spokeswoman declined to say exactly how the company would deal with the fallout from the crisis other than to say that it was “reviewing the issue of customer compensation and will communicate further in due course”.

The bank’s head of retail banking, Stephen Cruise, said it would work towards rebuilding the public’s trust “one customer at a time” once the problems had been resolved but, speaking on BBC Radio Ulster yesterday, he rejected the idea that the bank has been “economical with the truth” over how long it would take to resolve the issue.

That does not appear to be the view of the Central Bank and, ahead of an appearance before an Oireachtas hearing today, its senior officials are understood to be furious with the manner in which Ulster Bank has handled the crisis.

Sources told The Irish Times that the bank’s drip-feeding of inaccurate information about when the difficulties would be resolved had only exacerbated problems.

Mr Cruise described the difficulties as “unprecedented” and assured customers they would not be left “out of pocket” for expenses incurred as a result of the bank’s problems.

However, Mr Jewell said such assurances were not enough and he warned that despite the bank’s promises some people would have their credit rating negatively affected as a result of missed payments because funds did not show up in their Ulster Bank accounts.

“Despite what the bank has said, it is inevitable that some people will fall through the cracks and have their credit rating affected as a result of this debacle. The problems will only materialise months from now and anyone who has their credit rating affected could have their lives destroyed. I know that sounds dramatic but it is the reality,” he said.

He called on the bank to have a team of people in place for the next six months to act as contact points for anyone who experiences long-term problems as a result of the bank’s account failures.

While the bank has admitted the problems will persist for days it said yesterday that customers should see an “improved position on their accounts” this week as it works to clear the backlog of account transactions which has built up over the last two weeks.

Earlier this week it said it would bring in independent experts to oversee an investigation into the issues and said it would publish “the relevant findings” arising from the inquiry.

In its first public comment on the issue, the National Consumer Agency said it was “very concerned at the uncertainty surrounding when this will be resolved” but said it did not have any role to play in the issue as the resolution of the difficulties was “a matter for Ulster Bank and the Central Bank”.

Ulster Bank customers: What they’re saying

“I’m not sure if my mortgage has come out or not. The queue there is crazy at the moment. Now as a couple of weeks have progressed, it’s getting a bit more annoying.”

Sarah Hamilton, Dunboyne, Co Meath

“I think they should really tell us exactly what’s happening, not just a glitch. Obviously there’s something bigger than what they’re saying. I’m trying to pay my mortgage for the past two weeks.”

Patricia Lynam, Drimnagh

“I just don’t understand how long it’s going on for. I can understand that glitches happen and computers crash, but to tell us initially that it might take a week and it’s in its second week now. I think it’s going to start unnerving people about where their money is. My reaction is I can’t wait for it to be sorted because I feel I just want to get my money out of there as quick as I can. Tell us the truth; tell us what’s going on. Has it been hacked? They can’t tell me anything, it’s very unsatisfactory.”

Anne Murphy, Dublin 2

“It took something amazing to make Bank of Ireland or AIB look good but they’ve done it. There are desks inside there without people on them and a queue of about 10 people, at least at lunchtime you should have the whole thing manned.”

David Bennett, Milltown

“I just got back from Germany and need to withdraw money. I still don’t have my pay from last month, which is a big problem for me. I obviously need to pay for food and everything.”

Georg Eggers, Germany

“They won’t answer the telephone. You’ve to get into your car and drive down every time you want to ask a simple question. But they’re [banks] all the same. It’s their bad luck this week; it’ll be someone else’s again. I suspect that this might shake up the system to sort out their computerised systems.

John Brennan, Dublin

“I just have a deposit account in the Ulster Bank. They’re very helpful and very courteous, there’s no delay and fortunately I wasn’t going in shouting and roaring at them.

Mary O’Carroll, Dublin

“I don’t mind too much to be honest, mistakes happen and they’ve been good about getting my money to me. I paid my rent; everyone understands there have been delays. Hopefully it’ll be resolved sooner rather than later. I’ve just changed to Ulster Bank to avoid AIB fees; this is what I get for not paying fees!”

Stephen Concannon, Bray

In conversation with MEADHBH McHUGH

Would you leave? Views sought on Twitter

Yes, I think their handling has been pathetic, very poor.

James Cunningham

No, they have always treated me better than other banks. It is annoying but I know they will make good in the end.

Chris O’Muraile

Strong possibility. Staff in O’Connell St branch are great, but this is beyond a joke. Two weeks and still no money?

Tony Burke

In 15 years of banking with them this is the first trouble I have had. And I’d be wary of starting a run on a bank.

Pat Burke

Opening a PTSB account this morning. Ulster Bank are lying through their teeth. Account not updated, no sign of Children’s Allowance today. Without a doubt, yes.

Nessa Toale

If I could close my account twice I would.

Rory McCormac

I would love to but I have my mortgage with them and have no option but to stay.

Fiachra O’Murchu

Without a doubt. Pushing three weeks now and no wages in my account to pay bills.

Ronan Rock