Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

No convincing answers to banking crisis

The Ulster Bank has rewritten the handbook on how not to handle a crisis. It could scarcely have created a worse image of itself - never mind hardship for its customers - if it had set out to do so deliberately.

While it is accepted that the computer problems were not of its making, the bank's response over the past 12 days has been deplorable.

Even Finance Minister Sammy Wilson cannot get a straight answer to the simple question - when will customers be able to go back to normal banking?

Ulster Bank's reluctance, or inability, to answer has left an information vacuum which has been filled with rumour, counter rumour, tales of people getting hundreds of pounds out of ATMs without the withdrawals being charged to their accounts, and tales of people being unable to get any money from their branch. What is certain is that thousands of customers are facing genuine disruption to their financial affairs.

What is particularly difficult to understand - and again there are no convincing answers - is why it is taking Ulster Bank so long to sort out the problems.

Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest both say 99% of customers' accounts are now functioning normally. Yet Ulster Bank, with a much smaller customer base, cannot even hazard a guess when it will arrive at the same point. Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS, the Ulster Bank's parent company, should be taking action to justify his huge salary - £1.2m last year, although he has turned down this year's bonus. He will hardly be on his uppers - and he will be able to get at his money.

It must be remembered that RBS is virtually owned by the UK taxpayer after being bailed out, so surely the Government must have an interest in our banking crisis.

If the Ulster Bank was called the London Bank would the disruption still be going on or would government ministers and the Bank of England have stepped in to get it sorted? That is probably another question we won't get answered.

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