Wednesday 16 October 2019

After three years, disillusionment and frustration rise to top

Laura Noonan

THEY came in smaller numbers, but for many Bank of Ireland shareholders the need to lash out was every bit as pressing yesterday as it was when they gathered for their first post-crisis meeting more than three years ago.

For two hours, in the half-empty O'Reilly Hall in University College Dublin, shareholders railed against the "absolute arrogance" of the bank's management, the "completely unacceptable" salaries paid to bosses and the dramatic plunge in the bank's share price.

The outbursts were punctuated with a few pro-management contributions, including one shareholder who bravely began his submission with: "I wish people would stop slagging you off".

All in all, though, the atmosphere was one of disillusionment peppered with frustration at the increasing irrelevance of the thousands of ordinary small investors on BoI's share register.

This bank, which yesterday's assembled shareholders owned so proudly for so long, is no longer theirs. More than a third of it is owned by five North American investors and 15pc is owned by the State. Most of the remainder is with big institutions.

The shareholders that spoke yesterday were overwhelmingly unhappy, yet almost all of management's motions got approval from more than 99pc of the bank's investor base.

"We're like the Irish breakfast, we're the bacon and we've been well and truly burnt, the institutions are just the hen, they deliver a service," said Patrick Furey, going on to (unsuccessfully) argue that small shareholders should be given extra votes.

What BoI's small shareholders have left is the occasional opportunity to publicly voice their woes, and they embraced that chance yesterday.

TD Shane Ross launched a vitriolic attack against the "exceptional" feat management had accomplished by presiding over a collapse which saw the bank's share price plunge from €18 to its current level of about 11c.

He went on to lock horns with the bank's governor, Pat Molloy, over his refusal to make a definitive and clear commitment around future bonuses and slammed the "completely unacceptable" packages paid to some senior BoI figures.

A fellow investor took the mic to criticise Mr Molloy for the "absolute arrogance" shown in his response to Mr Ross.

An earlier contribution had suggested, to much applause, that executive pay be cut "until such a time as the bank's share price improves and it pays a dividend".

Another suggested that the bank should take steps to recover bonuses paid to senior managers who were responsible for construction and development lending which brought the bank to the brink of collapse.

Mr Molloy's response -- "I don't think there are any steps available to us" -- was not a crowd pleaser.

Neither was the bank's decision to hold yesterday's meeting at 9.30am, something shareholders complained was designed to frustrate attendance from those living in far flung places, like Kerry or other spots far from the capital.

A rough morning's work for BoI's management then, but they can be thankful for one thing at least -- this year, angry as some of the shareholders undoubtedly were, there were no eggs.

Irish Independent

Also in Business