Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank's future is hanging in the balance

Henry Ford said if people knew how the banks worked there would be a revolution in the morning. Donald C McFetridge is still waiting

Money makes the world go round - or does it? At present, in the case of the Ulster Bank, it's driving a lot of its customers crazy.

Since this latest banking disaster started, more than three weeks ago, Ulster Bank has singularly failed to resolve the problem.

Every day, customers are being greeted with unsatisfactory ad hoc answers from bank officials who (when they deign to speak at all) utter little more than inane remarks about how hard they are working.

So are their customers, many of whom didn't get paid for more than two weeks (me included).

The world of retail banking these days is extremely competitive and most, if not all, banking institutions need to greatly enhance their customer satisfaction levels.

For quite some time now (after being with Ulster Bank for more than 35 years) I've noticed a dreadful decline in levels of service. Two cashiers in a busy branch with lengthy queues is not my idea of quality service.

This has been a public relations disaster since day one. When the so-called 'technical glitch' came to light, it was evident that the problem was going to take much longer to fix than initially indicated.

That's one of the principal complaints of customers. Why didn't they tell us the truth? Have they never heard of crisis-management? Or did they simply lose their textbooks on this occasion?

Even this week, when things are supposed to be getting back to normal, there have been reports of helplines not working and out-of-service ATMs.

I personally bank online and withdraw cash from ATMs, but I had to pay one regrettable visit to a branch, when my salary failed to appear in my account after two weeks and two BAC payments were still floating around in the ether.

The responses I was given were most unsatisfactory and, when I pressed for greater clarification (ie why had a direct debit not been paid? And when would the cheque I wanted to lodge that day appear in my account?), I was palmed off with poppycock.

Everything was very vague and, even after lengthy and persistent questioning, to my chagrin, I had to reluctantly leave the branch (voluntarily). Had I stayed, I fear security might have had to become involved, such was my level of anger and frustration. And I'm not alone.

Many of these problems could have been avoided had the bank been honest in the first instance and if they had satisfactorily kept their customers informed on a daily basis.

Too often the information was scant, incomplete or misleading. Even at this stage, I do not know for certain when my balances will be up-to-date and accurately reflect what I have (or don't have) in my accounts.

Ulster Bank needs to let us have at least some satisfactory answers to our queries. It's no good telling us how hard staff are working. We're fed up being fobbed off with platitudes.

Opening 10 branches on the Twelfth tomorrow is only tokenism; 10 branches are not enough to sort out a problem which should have been put to bed ages ago.

No doubt, when this debacle is over (but not forgotten), the bank will realise the folly of its ways, as thousands of customers switch to other banks.

Customers these days are fickle; loyalty to a bank is not top of their list. Bank customers, as in other service areas, are promiscuous and will switch providers at the drop of a hat.

It's easy to do and many formerly loyal customers intend to switch banks when balances are reconciled and up-to-date.

Henry Ford pointed out that "... people do not understand our banking system, for, if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning". We'll see.

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