Wednesday 23 May 2018

Business Confidential: Bank of Ireland top brass shun its own savings accounts. Shouldn't you?

BoI top brass don’t keep much of their own money locked away in the bank’s savings accounts
BoI top brass don’t keep much of their own money locked away in the bank’s savings accounts

The Insider

Richie Boucher's Bank of Ireland pays a laughably rubbish 0.01pc interest on its demand deposit accounts. You'd get a euro in interest if you left €10,000 on deposit for a year.

Its Advantage one-year fixed-term account pays 0.25pc - so your 10 grand would pay only €25 after being locked away for a year. Before tax.

So is it any wonder that Bank of Ireland's top brass - its 22 key management personnel - between them have the smallest amount of their own money on deposit for any year over the last decade?

At the end of last year, the top bankers had just under €5.83m on deposit with the bank. Briefly, there was as much as €28.5m on deposit during the year. Wow - that's some serious wedge for people sort of subject to a pay cap.

But it didn't stay long before it was whisked off somewhere more rewarding. Nearly €23m was withdrawn. Hardly a vote of confidence, you might think.

At the start of the previous year, the top bankers - there were 21 of them then - had €9.7m in savings accounts. Between 2006 and the end of 2012, the bankers held more than €11m on deposit with the bank every single year. At one stage in 2010, the 26 top people had as much as €20.52m on deposit.

If Bank of Ireland's own leaders feel that their savings accounts are such bad value for their own lump sums, you'd be wise to take their advice.

Irish Water contractor Abtran and the British Virgin Islands connection

Abtran, the Cork outsourcing company with the big fat Irish Water contract from the State, sold a stake to the Carlyle Cardinal Ireland fund last November.

The Carlyle buyout fund is full of State money, as it received €125m from Enterprise Ireland and the National Pensions Reserve Fund, which was set up to pay for public sector pensions in the distant future.

The deal has seen Irish taxpayers' monies head to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, as shares in Abtran have zipped in and out of offshore companies.

Tortola was once, of course, one of the great centres of piracy in the Caribbean. Now it is entirely different. No pirates any more, just international financiers and brass plate companies.

Abtran was owned by Edgeway Group Unlimited and Forrest Hill Global - two British Virgin Islands entities - following a share re-organisation in September 2011 that saw founders Pat Ryan and Gerald, Michael and Patrick Fitzgerald transfer their stake to Abtran Group, which in turn was owned by the offshore companies.

This has the effect of shielding information on ownership and finances from prying eyes. And although owned offshore, Abtran diligently pays all its taxes here, so it is fully compliant with the law.

Forest Hill Global was bought last November by the Carlyle buyout vehicle Aurora Acquisitions Unlimited, which promptly allotted shares to Aurora Nominees, a company registered in Tortola.

The partially State-owned Bank of Ireland lent up to €47.5m to help fund the deal.

Giving taxpayer monies to a company that was set up offshore to dodge taxes would be scandalous - but giving money to a business owned offshore for transparency reasons is quite all right.

What does it take these days for a firm to decide a director is not independent?

Do corporate boards ever decide that their members are not independent?

Switching from an executive role to a non-executive role should be a governance no-no. It's got to be hard to move from running a company for yourself to running it for shareholders. But Ryanair put Michael Cawley on its board after years of him serving in an executive role.

And what about directors who have served for hundreds of years? John McGuckian has been on the board of ICG for 27 years. Kerry chairman Michael Dowling has been there for 18 years. James Osborne has been a non-exec at Ryanair for 19 years.

Again, the boards of these companies have decided that these chaps are all independent.

And what about when the non-executives' own businesses - their day jobs - get big juicy fees from the companies in question?

Kingspan hired John Cronin as a non-executive in May 2014. He's the chairman of McCann FitzGerald, one of the country's so-called Magic Circle law firms. Kingspan paid McCann FitzGerald €67,376 in the year Cronin joined the board. The fee to Cronin's firm more than doubled to €158,336 last year.

Goodbody's Linda Hickey is also a Kingspan board member. Goodbody is Kingspan's corporate broker. It earned "less than €50,000" for Kingspan last year.

Catherine Duffy is one of the top people at A&L Goodbody. She's also a board member of ICG, which paid A&L Goodbody about €100,000 last year and €100,000 the year before, all on an "arm's-length basis" at "standard commercial terms".

All of these "related party transactions" have been disclosed - and, after careful consideration, the companies in question have decided that paying hundreds of thousands of euro in fees to their directors does not affect their independence at all.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to see what does.

Euromillions winner Dolores McNamara and the Sainsbury's shopping trip

Former Limerick cleaning lady turned Euromillions squillionaire Dolores McNamara seems to have a thing for shopping centres.

It emerged last week that Blue Haven Investments - her family investment vehicle - was in the running to buy the Childers Road Retail Park in Limerick, which had a guide price of €44m. The shopping centre park, which was built during the boom, has a rent roll of €3.2m.

McNamara is one of the wealthiest people in the country, having won a €115m EuroMillions jackpot in 2005.

But her investments since her windfall would appear to be very low-profile.

The Limerick Leader reports that the family spent €2m on the Newtown Shopping centre in Annacotty, buying the property from Nama. However, it seems that soon after her win she also bought a chunk of the Castle Marina retail park in Nottingham. There's a mortgage from Bank of Ireland from 2006 against the Sainsbury's building in the Midlands retail park. It's a seriously big building too.

The family also dipped its toe into property development in Ireland - at the wrong time. Gary McNamara's A&G Thomond Builders has land and property with a carrying value of just over €2.03m. A lack of credit for potential buyers has meant the company has decided to rent out rather than sell its properties. The "present economic situation has also given rise to significant asset valuation uncertainties", according to company documents.

If the recovery hasn't hit Limerick's super-rich, then who has it reached?

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