Business Irish

Thursday 23 November 2017

AIB chief Duffy strikes positive note despite €3.8bn deficit

Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

AIB chief executive David Duffy gives off an air of quiet confidence. The top man at the country's biggest State-owned lender presents himself, and his bank's results, with the authority of someone who believes a corner has been turned.

Bailed out AIB may have suffered a €3.8bn pre-tax loss last year, but the bank boss reassures us that it will return to profitability next year.

Losses at AIB and its rivals remain off the scales compared with anything other than the numbers seen in the worst period of the crash. Mortgage arrears levels are a national crisis.

But yesterday's AIB press briefing was a largely positive affair. That takes some doing.

Mr Duffy now says the State-owned bank could potentially beat Central Bank targets for tackling the issue, that's regardless of complaints from regulators that not enough is being done by the banks to help homeowners in distress.

The focus, he said, can be too often on the negative.

He pointed out that 84pc of customers – around 200,000 residential accounts – are fully performing while 66pc of the buy-to-lets have no problems.

The bank returned to borrowing in the markets at the end of last year and reliance on emergency ECB funding is falling.

There was €4.8bn lent to small and medium enterprises last year, 37pc ahead of target, he said.

Mr Duffy, who previously worked at Goldman Sachs and ING Group, tries to strike a balance between his obvious wish to inject optimism – indeed energy – into the banking debate, and not to talk up AIB's achievements too vigorously.

Positivity is encouraging, but major restructuring is still required.

The bank has been stabilising during a period of wider market calm but questions remain over whether that trend can continue if the eurozone hits another bump. That will be the real test of his management metal.

In the meantime, Mr Duffy has to go down into the industrial relations trenches if he is to deliver pay cuts demanded by his biggest shareholder – Michael Noonan.

Bailing out AIB has cost taxpayers more than €20bn. The biggest bailout after Anglo. The bank is cutting jobs and closing branches.

Recovery won't happen without confidence, but that didn't seem to extend to the markets, with the bank's shares down 5.5pc to €0.07 by early afternoon yesterday.

Irish Independent

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