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First Trust Bank 'will be back in black this year'

FIRST Trust Bank will be back in profit in 2014, the man charged with turning the AIB-owned business around has claimed.

Des Moore, who joined the bank in March 2013 as Director of Personal and Business Banking, told the Belfast Telegraph the restructuring which has taken place at the organisation over the last 18 months has helped to cut costs and improve profitability.

"My job is to turn around the organisation and we expect to be profitable again in 2014," he said at the bank's Belfast office. "The challenge is to return First Trust to its rightful place as a challenger bank and the number one in terms of new business."

If such a turnaround occurs, it will mark the end of a difficult period for the bank which is part-owned by the Irish state through AIB and would follow a return to profit for the parent company in 2013.

Mr Moore said a cost-cutting exercise had seen First Trust, which essentially looks after AIB's Northern Ireland business, reduce headcount over the last 18 months to 900 from 1,300 previously while also reducing the number of bank branches it has to 32 from 47.

And like other banks operating here, Mr Moore said further branch closures can't be ruled out, but the bulk of the closures have already taken place.

"We don't want to shut branches, but we've had to," he said. "I can't say we'll never do it again but I would stress we've already been through the vast majority of the changes we need to do to our business."

As well as the restructuring, Mr Moore said the closures are a result of the changing nature of how customers carry out their banking, with more choosing to use online or mobile services.

And he said a rejuvenated First Trust is ready and willing to lend and take a larger slice of business in Northern Ireland.

It currently has a 12% share of the personal banking market here and a 14% share of the business market and Mr Moore said he's keen to get both back up to 20% of the market, a level it commanded as far back as 2000. He said the bank is currently winning around 23% of new business banking in Northern Ireland, according to the British Banking Association.

Belfast Telegraph