KBC will make final call on future here within months
The "will they, won't they" saga surrounding KBC Bank's future in Ireland will "probably" be resolved by the end of 2016, according to the chief executive of the bank's Irish operation.
KBC Group has been carrying out a review of whether it should retain its presence here. The Irish arm more than doubled its net profit after tax and impairments year-on-year in the second quarter - to €39.5m from €17.8m.
It returned its first profit since the crash last year, which Mr Verbraeken said was earlier than the Belgian parent group had expected.
"The premise has always been for KBC to build out a sustainably profitable bank in Ireland, and only failing that it would look at other options," said Mr Verbraeken.
"This is a process that is ongoing. KBC had set out that it would come to a conclusion on that question in 2016, it's probably going to be towards the end of 2016, maybe even early 2017," he said. "The decision hasn't been reached...the results of 2016 will feed into that debate but there is obviously more that comes to it. The senior management here in Dublin is contributing to that debate, so this is something that we will probably be able to comment on towards the end of the year.
He said he was "very happy" with the bank's second-quarter results.
"We have increased our digital capabilities. We were the first bank to come to the market with the capability of full digital onboarding [setting up a new account online], either through a mobile device or a computer, and this is giving us traction to reach out to customers who have an interest in our products."
The bank added 33,000 customer accounts in the first half of the year, he said.
It recently cut variable interest rates on mortgages for new customers, and also made cuts to fixed rate mortgages for new and existing customers. Mr Verbraeken said the bank believes its rates are "quite competitive right now" but would be kept under review.
Mr Verbraeken said the bank was co-operating fully with the Central Bank's tracker mortgage probe.
The probe includes an examination of whether customers of Irish banks were wrongly denied trackers. Deloitte has been appointed as an independent third party to make sure KBC's review complies with Central Bank requirements.
"We are meeting the timelines that the Central Bank has set out for this review, which is a phased review. I wouldn't want to pre-empt any of the findings or the conclusions before the entire process has been concluded, just to say that we're fully co-operating with the Central Bank and their agents in completing this process as speedily as possible. We will make sure that customers are treated fairly."