Ulster Bank boss Jim Brown defends compensation deal


Ed Carty
Friday 31 August 2012 15:21 BST
Ulster Bank customers hit by the month-long IT meltdown which crippled the bank are to be offered a one-off compensation payment and free banking for three months
Ulster Bank customers hit by the month-long IT meltdown which crippled the bank are to be offered a one-off compensation payment and free banking for three months

The boss of Ulster Bank has rejected accusations of too little, too late over compensation for a month-long IT meltdown which affected a third of the bank's two million customers.

In a gesture to repair its damaged reputation, personal current account holders in the Republic of Ireland will get 25 euro while those in Northern Ireland get £20 in one-off payouts.

On top of that a three month banking fee holiday has been offered along with reimbursement of expenses run up by customers inconvenienced by the chaos.

Jim Brown, Ulster Bank chief executive, rejected claims from some politicians and business leaders that the compensation package was too small.

"I'm happy with it. I think it goes far enough," he said.

"In terms of larger more complex cases, someone not being able to settle on a property, we will look at those on a case by case basis."

The final compensation bill is expected to be at least twice the initial 35 million euro set aside earlier in the year.

Ulster Bank's head of retail banking Stephen Cruise said he expected the total bill to be "tens of millions" more than the money already provided by RBS.

That will cover other elements of the package such as reimbursement of reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred during the technical chaos topped up by 20% to a maximum of 120 euro or £100.

Anyone affected by the June 19-July 18 crisis is urged to contact the bank and use all phone bills, bus tickets, travel receipts, bills or invoices from the period to demonstrate costs.

But Mark Fielding, chief executive of small business group Isme, refused to accept that was a victory for the consumer.

"With regard to the miserly compensation being offered, it will cost small business owners more than the compensation to make a claim, to include bus tickets, phone bills and travel receipts," he said.

The bank said it will start processing claims from Monday.

Elsewhere, people not banking with Ulster Bank but who suffered knock-on effects of the payments blackout have been told to apply for compensation through their own bank first.

Separately, there is a commitment to delay the introduction of maintenance fees for all personal current account holders until July 2013.

Savings customers have also been offered a one-off payment. It will be the equivalent of an additional rate for three months of 0.06% gross, 0.25% on the average daily balance, between September 1 and November 30 this year.

Amid fears that the banking breakdown will damage customers' credit rating, free financial health checks are being offered from the Irish Credit Bureau. Reports on ratings will be available within five days for customers with concerns.

Dermot Jewell, Ireland's Consumers Association chief, gave a guarded welcome but criticised the compensation limits and said that customers of other banks who were hit by knock-on delays are not being proactively paid.

Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath said the package was fair and reasonable but Phil Flanagan, a Sinn Fein MLA in Northern Ireland, said: "I can see no reason why such a simple scheme has taken so long to put in place."

The Ulster Bank failure left many customers unable to see or use cash paid into their accounts, meaning delayed home purchases, disappearing wages, holidaymakers out of pocket and social welfare recipients left penniless.

In the UK, the Consumer Council said bank customers may qualify for compensation for more than just financial loss.

"We have guidance on the types of things people can claim for which include losses which aren't financial, such as trouble, stress and inconvenience," it said.

Bernard Sheridan, director of consumer protection with Ireland's Central Bank, said he could not enforce compensation levels.

"While Ulster Bank is required to reimburse and make good any actual losses suffered by customers, the level of any payment for inconvenience suffered is not subject to the Central Bank's regulatory standards or approval.

"This is a commercial decision for Ulster Bank."

The Irish Payment Services Organisation (Ipso) is working closely with its member banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions to ensure that customers know how to get help if they have been affected by the recent systems incident at Ulster Bank.

Ulster Bank said any errors made on fees, charges and debit interest will be corrected by the end of October.

And customers in both jurisdictions have been urged to approach the relevant financial ombudsman if they fail to get satisfaction over losses.

An inquiry by Ireland Central Bank into the Ulster Bank crisis is not expected to be completed for months. The penalty which the bank could face is up to five million euro.

Mr Brown has waived his bonus for 2012, along with Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS, the bank bailed out with £45 billion by the British Government, the world's costliest.

He said the source of the IT meltdown was traced to upgrade work on software for the bank's payments system.

Bank chiefs have said the Ulster Bank crisis lasted for four weeks - compared to just over two weeks for RBS and NatWest - because of technical differences in operations.

Independent investigators will report the cause of the breakdown and how the bank handled the fallout in several weeks.

The key finding on why Ulster Bank customers were left with banking services for one month when the rest of RBS was back up and running will also be released, Mr Brown said.

No information on whether IT staff or anyone else has been sacked as a result of the crisis was available.


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