Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Ulster Bank found wanting yet again

The crisis at the Ulster Bank could be described as farcical were it not for the fact that so many people and businesses are facing hardship because their accounts are frozen.

There is no end to this debacle in sight, with the bank's top executive saying that normal service could be restored on July 16, but effectively offering no guarantee that it would be business as usual for all customers. Even after all this time we still don't really know what has caused the problem or exactly what the bank is doing to get accounts up and running again.

And, as this newspaper has said before, there is still a feeling that Ulster Bank customers have been treated worse than customers of RBS and NatWest where the problem originated, but who have restored their systems.

Even the Prime Minister, when pressed on the issue, tried to side-step critics, pointing instead towards the Treasury. There seems to be a distinct lack of understanding just how serious the problem is for so many customers. Even when they eventually access their accounts, there are no guarantees that their credit rating will not be impaired because of missed payments for mortgages or loans or credit cards.

For businesses depending on cash flow the situation is also perilous as they rely on the goodwill of suppliers or service providers to keep going in the absence of automated payments. While it has to be accepted that staff at the Ulster Bank are trying to resolve the problems, the whole issue has been handled disastrously with a lack of clear, unequivocal information. It has been an object lesson in how not to do things from every perspective. Ultimately responsibility for sorting out the problem rests with parent company RBS which again has been less than forthcoming in its responses. Chairman Sir Philip Hampton was described as deeply sorry and restrained during a meeting with Northern Ireland MPs yesterday, but that is no substitute for real action.

He and the bank's chief executive Stephen Hester must surely consider their positions given their abject failure on every level to resolve this ongoing and frankly inexcusable crisis.

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