Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank has paid out £18m over IT fiasco, MLAs told

By Claire McNeilly

Ulster Bank has paid out £18m in compensation to almost 300,000 customers in Northern Ireland following a computer meltdown in June.

Bosses confirmed that 150,000 clients have received one-off payments of £20 because they had to call in to a branch to withdraw cash.

The other half were awarded compensation for out-of-pocket and other expenses, including lost interest, after an IT upgrade caused a massive systems crash. It left hundreds of thousands of customers unable to get money or access their accounts for weeks.

Ulster Bank chief executive Jim Brown (right) said that there had also been a further 10,000 complaints outside of these schemes, 9,000 of which have been processed. These are not included in the £18m figure, which could still rise.

Mr Brown told a joint meeting of Stormont's finance and trade committees yesterday that he expected more customers to raise concerns.

“The process is still ongoing,” he said.

Mr Brown told MLAs that the incident was “a major disaster from the bank's perspective”.

William Higgins, director of RBS Group Operations, and Stephen Cruise, Ulster Bank's head of retail banking, also appeared before the committee.

Bank executives last faced MLAs on July 5, when they promised that a compensation scheme for customers was imminent.

There was subsequent criticism when it took a further eight weeks before the details of its restitution plan were announced.

Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay said the delay was “absolutely scandalous” and he said that people felt “extremely misled” and “very disappointed”.

Mr Brown said the problem had turned out to be “more complex than we originally thought”.

“It is also clear we had issues with the contingency plan relating to our systems operating as they should have, because our systems were down and could not process transactions for quite a few days,” he said.

Ulster Bank was quickly able to extend branch opening hours and bring extra staff into its call centre, he said.

The bank has since been criticised by politicians, business leaders and consumer bodies for initiating only a reimbursement scheme rather than offering any wider compensation.

Mr Brown said all customers are being returned to the financial position they would have been in had the incident not happened, and are receiving fair redress for inconvenience caused.

“I want to acknowledge once again that the level of service provided to our customers during this period was unacceptable and that it caused widespread frustration and inconvenience,” he said.

Despite the widespread disruption to customers, Mr Brown said there had been no increase in the number of account closures.

“We haven’t seen any significant customer attrition as a result of the incident,” he said.

The Financial Services Authority is conducting an independent investigation and has interviewed senior Ulster Bank staff.

Factfile

Ulster Bank has said that it has now strengthened testing procedures when changes like software upgrades are made.

The IT glitch affected the entire RBS Group but Ulster Bank took the longest to resolve the issue.

Ten weeks after the initial problem, the bank was still warning some customers that their statements may not be correct.

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