Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's banks rapped over 'shoddy' service in report

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland's banks have come under fire over lending, IT systems and branch closures as part of a long-awaited government report into the industry.

And it says banks need to do more to help the recovery of the economy here.

A 43-page report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee comes after its long-running inquiry was set up in July 2013 to take a forensic look at the banking industry, following the financial crash in 2008.

Among its conclusions, it highlights "reckless high-risk attitude of many banks" before the financial crisis, and that the industry has now "swung too far back in the opposite direction" in terms of lending.

And some of Northern Ireland's banks "have shown relatively little concern for their customers by pursuing plans to close local branches", particularly in rural areas, the report says. It adds banks' IT systems are "not fit for purpose". That was prompted by a huge Ulster Bank outage in June 2012, which left thousands of customers unable to access their accounts.

The report also raises concerns about an "over-concentration" in the Northern Ireland banking market, with calls for banks to "improve their services to their customers".

But while it says there remains "some cause for concern" in the property market, Northern Ireland's economy has shown "definite signs of recovery".

Ulster Bank, Danske Bank, Bank of Ireland and First Trust parent bank Allied Irish Banks (AIB) each posted profits in their last accounts.

The report also states there has been "significant progress" made in transparency within the banking sector. In response, Irene Graham of the British Bankers' Association said: "Banks in Northern Ireland want to be transparent about the support they give to customers.

"Since last year they've been publishing details of their lending, and from next month they will give a breakdown of that lending by local postcode area."

Belfast Telegraph