Northern Bank has launched a major publicity offensive to try and snatch away Ulster Bank customers disaffected by long-running computer chaos.
The rival operator has laid on extra staff to deal with “a significant increase” in calls from customers looking to switch from Ulster Bank, stricken by a software failure which has left hundreds of thousands of customers with their accounts frozen for a second week.
Northern, owned by Danske Bank, has launched an advertising campaign for those interested in switching their accounts from other institutions, including full-page newspaper ads flagging up Saturday openings at 21 branches and highlighting ‘dedicated switcher teams’.
A Northern spokeswoman admitted the campaign was sparked by a rise in enquiries since Ulster Bank’s problems began.
“We have acted promptly to support our customers with appropriate flexibility in order to assist with any payment delays that may arise. We would ask our customers to contact their branch for support if necessary,” she said.
“Ulster Bank has already confirmed that customers will not suffer any financial loss as a result of the problem.
“We always welcome people who wish to switch to us from another financial institution.”
It has also emerged that Ulster Bank has doubled the number of staff at call centres.
Footfall through Ulster Bank branches on Tuesday was approximately 11,000 across Northern Ireland and 19,000 calls were handled via its call centres.
While the other main banks in Northern Ireland have said that they are co-operating to help their customers who may be suffering knock-on problems caused by the technological glitch, they were coy about their intent to attract Ulster Bank customers.
A spokesman for Bank of Ireland said it is working to try and minimise disruption for clients.
“While Bank of Ireland's systems and processing times remain unaffected, we are very aware that some of our customers have experienced delays in credit and debit payments outside of our control,” he said.
“We are working closely with customers who contact us. Bank of Ireland confirms that it is its intention that no customer be disadvantaged by unintended fees, charges or interest as a direct result of the Ulster Bank delays in processing debits and credits.”
He added that it would not be appropriate to comment on whether customers were leaving Ulster Bank to open accounts with different institutions.
A First Trust representative added: “We are very sensitive to our customers' needs, and our staff are particularly alert to difficulties that may be experienced by customers over the last week as a result of the RBS and Ulster Bank technical issue.
“Our staff will do what they can to support them.”
A spokesman for Ulster Bank said that staff continue to work around the clock to clear the backlog of payments caused by the RBS Group wide IT issue. He added that the progress being made is increasing the bank’s confidence that full service will be restored by next week.
“We apologise once again to our customers and thank them for their continued patience,” he said. “We continue to assist customers who have experienced delays in receiving salary or social welfare benefits. We are also continuing to facilitate customers in taking out cash on credit cards, interest free.
“To mitigate the impact of this delay for our most vulnerable customers, we have flexible local arrangements in place. Should they be unable to get to their local branch through the usual methods, we would urge them to contact their branch or call us centrally and we will provide assistance.”
Unconfirmed reports have suggested a problem in India was behind the meltdown, which reportedly began after a swathe of information was erased in a routine software upgrade. The deleted information is said to have been re-entered into the computer system of RBS Group, Ulster Bank’s parent firm. A statement said staff in Edinburgh are working to put the issues right.