Belfast Telegraph

Banks 'have not learned from their mistakes', retiring union chief warns

By John Mulgrew

Ulster Bank's future in Northern Ireland is a "concern" amid Government plans to sell-off its taxpayer-backed owner Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), the boss of one trade union has said.

Larry Broderick, who is stepping down as general secretary of the Financial Services Union (FSU) after 16 years at the helm, said he is also concerned about the bank's recent announcement that it's shutting nine branches.

The Government is dusting off plans to get rid of RBS with the aim of selling £15bn of its shares by 2023.

"We are seriously concerned that the management of Ulster Bank is being dictated by RBS," Mr Broderick said.

"Local management doesn't seem to have much sway and they have gone down the route of further branch closures.

"Customers are talking with their feet. They are saying it's not good enough.

"We would be genuinely concerned, particularly with the recent announcement by RBS that the Government in the UK wants to sell off RBS as an entity.

"Where that would leave Ulster Bank as a small player in Northern Ireland would be a concern."

Speaking about stepping down from the role, Mr Broderick said: "I'm reaching my 60th birthday and made the decision to retire.

"Two years ago we restructured to be the FSU, giving us broader appeal to fintech companies and it's the 100th anniversary next year.

"It's been dramatic. When I took over in 2001 the industry was booming. There was a strong focus on broadening banking and they were very profitable.

"We would have argued at the time we weren't happy with the culture. The big challenge came, and no one was probably listening at the time. Banking was in a very strong position, and then the crash came in 2008.

"That had a big impact on the island of Ireland."

But the FSU general secretary said that banks here "haven't learnt from the mistakes of the past".

"Recent examples of branch closures, cost-cutting, tracker mortgages in the Republic," he said.

"I'm appealing, before I go, that in Northern Ireland, the Republic and the UK, there needs to be a strong view of what banking and the financial service sector is - with better customer relations.

"Without that, we will be going from crisis to crisis."

He said First Trust, which is shutting 15 branches here, has gone through "major restructuring" - including fewer locations and reducing staff - which he says "we don't believe is working".

Meanwhile, staff at Danske Bank are also engaged in a vote over changes to their pensions, which is due to be decided on this week.

Speaking about the sector here, generally, Mr Broderick said: "I think as entities in themselves, Northern Ireland banks are profitable.

"My concern is there is no localised pressure to influence the retention of a banking system for customers and communities. Really, we need a devolved government back in place."

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.