Friday 18 August 2017

CEO McDonagh's plan to revamp Bank of Ireland 'under wraps until New Year'

HSBC executive Francesca McDonagh takes over as Bank of Ireland CEO in October
HSBC executive Francesca McDonagh takes over as Bank of Ireland CEO in October
Richie Boucher

Gretchen Friemann

Bank of Ireland's decision to select a new chief executive from the upper ranks of one of the UK's largest retail banks, HSBC, has been warmly received by the market, spurring hopes of a revitalisation at the lender after seven painful years of restructuring.

However, Francesca McDonagh, who takes up the reins on October 2, is unlikely to lay out a fresh strategy until February, when the bank reports its annual results, according to analysts.

Ms McDonagh, currently head of retail banking and wealth management at HSBC's UK & European division, fended off stiff, internal competition to win the top job.

Liam McLaughlin, head of retail at Bank of Ireland, and Andrew Keating, chief financial officer, were seen as favourites for the role.

Both are widely viewed as the architects, alongside Mr Boucher, of a salvage job that delivered a relatively swift return to profits in 2014 - well before the fully nationalised AIB or part-nationalised Permanent TSB.

But Ms McDonagh's appointment has also fuelled a debate in some corners of the industry about the inevitability of an external successor to Mr Boucher, following Finance Minister, Michael Noonan's comments earlier this year.

He said the Government would sweep aside the pay restrictions on executives of bailed-out banks if the board appointed a person from outside the organisation.

Ms McDonagh, who has spent two decades climbing the corporate ladder at HSBC, emerged as a surprise appointment.

Yet the change of guard at Bank of Ireland has been hailed as a success by analysts and investors alike.

Owen Callen, an analyst with Investec, described her as "impressive" and in possession "of all the right skill sets". Goodbody's Eamonn Hughes characterised her as a "very credible candidate" and noted she has been running a business "currently larger than Bank of Ireland's balance sheet".

Davy's Diarmaid Sheridan pointed out that Ms McDonagh's extensive retail banking experience is likely to provide a boon to Bank of Ireland's UK operations. He highlighted that 40pc of the lender's balance sheet is located in that market but it generated just 14pc of underlying profit in 2016 .

Ms McDonagh's experience in driving the partnership model between HSBC and high street retailers Marks and Spencer and John Lewis is also viewed by the analysts as similar to Bank of Ireland's ventures with the UK Post Office and AA.

But it is the implementation of the bank's multi-year €900m-odd overhaul to the digital platform that is viewed by the market as one of the central challenges facing the new CEO.

However, the enthusiasm provoked by Ms McDonagh's appointment left no imprint though on the bank's flagging share price.

Irish Independent

Also in Business