Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank to release details of customer compensation

By Michael McHugh

Details of compensation payments to Ulster Bank customers in financial difficulties because of computer problems at the bank will be ready within days, a senior official said.

Chief executive Jim Brown promised an independent investigation into the IT failure which left many customers with unpaid bills and pledged none of the bank's 1.9 million users across Ireland would lose money.

He said the system for processing payments had worked properly for 25 years but broke down on the evening of June 19.

The resultant backlog has caused weeks of delay, with operations expected to be disrupted until July 16.

Mr Brown told a Stormont committee: "It is unacceptable and our customers should expect better from us."

He added: "No customer will be left out of pocket as a result of this incident."

He said the incident was unprecedented in the banking sector, not just in terms of the impact on customers but in the complexity of resolving it.

The problem was created when maintenance on the computer system interfered with the processing of payments for the day's trading on the night of June 19. That meant the next day many customers' balances had not been updated. By the time that technical problem was resolved there was a backlog of payments pending - including the updating of accounts, direct debit payments, benefits and mortgages.

Mr Brown said the bank was working on a compensation package for customers and others affected like people whose employers use Ulster Bank to process their pay.

"We expect to have the policies finalised over the next few days. The whole theme here is to do this as quickly and painlessly as possible," he said.

He added: "The funds are in place to be able to do this as soon as is necessary."

An executive at the Ulster Bank's parent company the Royal Bank of Scotland, Chris Sullivan, said the bank still did not know exactly what had caused the IT problem, adding that would be addressed by a forensic, open and transparent independent review into what went wrong which would be shared with regulators, customers and the rest of the industry.

The board of the RBS has commissioned independent consultants to look at the whole incident, tell officials what went wrong and what they should do.

It comes a day after Northern Ireland MPs met senior management at RBS to discuss the bank's problems.

The delegation want RBS to send more staff to Northern Ireland to help clear the backlog. Mr Brown said 100 had been sent and there were more staff in Great Britain working on the problem. Branches have opened at weekends to help customers access their money and extra people have been brought into the telephone call centre.

The MPs raised their concerns about the ongoing delays at the bank and the issue of compensation for those affected.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said the crisis is "unacceptable". Mr Cameron said he had received assurances that RBS would reimburse Ulster Bank customers for penalty charges or overdraft fees, or anything else that was incurred because of the difficulties.

Today Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee Sinn Fein member Phil Flanagan told the officials the bank risked losing customers and questioned why it could take until July 16 to resolve the problems.

"In my opinion this date is not really acceptable, it is still a long way away," he said.

"The reaction from Ulster Bank at a senior level in terms of communications and the PR strategy has failed abysmally."

Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay asked the executives if they would take their bonuses.

The chief executive said: "We have not even thought about bonuses since we have been here.

"Any bonus applicable to me would be across the group, it will be decided by an independent panel."

He refused to say what his bonus was last year, adding it was nothing to do with his responsibilities for Ulster Bank.

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