Ulster Bank: The problems were a lot more difficult than we thought...
...but there has been no attempt to downplay the crisis
Claire McNeilly talks to Ulster Bank chief executive officer Jim Brown.
Question When can all Ulster Bank customers expect their accounts to be up-to-date?
Answer We’re hoping that the vast majority should be cleared by July 16. There may be customers who have got the odd issue with individual payments, but in terms of the backlog and processing transactions and their accounts being up-to-date, we expect it to be the 16th or before.
Question Why has it taken so much longer to fix the problem in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the UK?
Answer The fact is that there is a technical issue in terms of how the systems are set up and how the batches were impacted and there has been absolutely no priority of any part of the group over Ulster, I can categorically say that. There is an independent investigation that has been requested by the board and the results of that investigation will be made public as soon as it is completed.
Question Does Ulster Bank not have the IT or technological expertise to deal with this?
Answer I don’t think that’s the case. All three parts of the bank — RBS, NatWest, Ulster Bank — were impacted in different ways because of the way the system’s architecture and the batches run, but my focus now is to get service back to normal as quickly as we possibly can. There will be an investigation into the issue and how it occurred, and obviously we’re going to need to make sure that we don’t cause a disruption in the future.
Question Is this crisis down to |incompetence or sheer bad luck?
Answer We are going to investigate the causes of the crisis. The board is undertaking an independent review and the results of that will be published in due course.
Question Have you thought about resigning?
Answer The focus right now is on our customers, getting the service back to normal as quickly as we can, and it’s also on making sure that we’ve tried to minimise the disruption to them as much as possible until we restore services back to normal.
Question What do you say to the many customers who are threatening to leave?
Answer We’ve had incredible support from our customers. I’ve been into many of the branches to experience that first-hand and to date we have not seen a significant outflow of customers at all. We’ve been around for 176 years, we have had a glitch over the past couple of weeks, but my focus right now is to get our service levels back to what customers would expect of us as quickly as we possibly can.
Question Paint a picture for us of what your bank staff are physically doing at the moment to rectify this fault, and we’re not talking about just working through the backlog.
Answer First of all we have a huge focus on customers, so we have extended branch hours through the week until 7pm. We have opened up branches for longer hours on Saturdays, we’ve also opened up 20 branches across the island on Sundays as well, which is the first time that we’ve done that. We’ve got 150 extra people working in our call centre to handle call volumes coming through and there’s huge focus on trying to minimise the impact on customers as much as we possibly can while we deal with the issue.
Question You said no-one will |suffer from credit rating downgrades. How can you guarantee that?
Answer We’re working with the credit agencies to work through that issue. We’re in discussions with them now.
Question Would you agree that attempts to play down the magnitude of the crisis that has engulfed the Ulster Bank in these past weeks have backfired spectacularly?
Answer There has been no attempt to downplay the magnitude of the crisis at all. We’ve been very upfront with customers in terms of the issues that we’re dealing with. It became evident as we progressed through the last couple of weeks that they were a lot more complex and difficult than what we thought, and we’ve come out and communicated with our customers as soon as we’ve known.