Belfast Telegraph

Round of cost-cutting on the high street boosts banks

By John Mulgrew

Danske Bank boss Gerry Mallon has said he's confident there will be no further branch closures this year, as the bank's latest big profits are spurred on by cost-cutting which included decreasing its presence on the high street.

But with an ever-increasing number of customers opting for online and telephone banking, it's not clear whether that confidence will continue.

The bank - which only operates in Northern Ireland - posted a pre-tax profit of £31.5m in the first quarter of the year.

That was more than double the same period in 2014.

And that's been buoyed by the bank lowering its costs - including closing branches - along with increased income and reduced loan impairments.

It comes after the bank enjoyed record pre-tax profits of £117.5m in 2014 - a more than 10-fold increase on the previous year.

It now has six fewer branches than it did last year.

It currently has 46 across Northern Ireland.

Chief executive Gerry Mallon told the Belfast Telegraph there were a number of reasons for the improved numbers.

"There are a couple of things. We have strong cost control, maintained on a flat basis, year-on-year," he said.

"We are more resourceful in our marketing spending, making sure we have the right number of staff and not too many - better ways of being efficient.

"We have six branches fewer than we had last year, and that's definitely one element of the cost base.

"We have grown our income by 8%, year-on-year. That's down to new lending, replacing bad debt - we are replacing bad debts that are coming off the books, with good quality new lending."

Mr Mallon said while there would be no additional branch closures this year, the trend was continuing to move away from high street banking towards online and phone services.

"The trend is continuing, people are using the bank digitally, and physically less and less," he said. "I think the trend as a whole is pretty clear. Branches are being used less for transactional interactions and more for high value things - it's account openings and mortgage applications."

Danske said the number of people accessing its banking services online jumped by almost a third, year-on-year.

"The majority of these logons are through mobile phones, a trend also reflected in the high number of transactions customers are making via Paym - the 'pay by mobile number' service that we introduced to the local marketplace in April 2014," Mr Mallon said.

Danske reported a credit in loan impairments which it said reflected "higher than expected repayments generated from the sale of property and other assets". That includes property and other asset repossessions being sold to pay off defaulted mortgages and loans.

Mr Mallon said the mortgage and business loan market had picked up at the beginning of the year. "The mortgage market is picking up. In February I had said we were concerned business lending and confidence didn't seem to be picking up, but that seems to be turning," Mr Mallon said.

Belfast Telegraph