Friday 20 April 2018

AIB sale 'not a threat' to First Trust unit in North says chief

First Trust chief Des Moore
First Trust chief Des Moore

John Mulgrew

The head of AIB's Northern Ireland unit said he doesn't see the sell-off of parent company AIB as a threat to the business there.

First Trust chief Des Moore, from Wexford, said the unit is set to return to a "meaningful" profit for the last year, three years after he took over.

Job numbers have been cut by 40pc to 700 in that time and the branch network is down by more than a third, to 30 outlets across Northern Ireland.

Mr Moore (53) is not ruling out cutting further branches in future. "You couldn't (rule it out). The business model would always be under review. The Northern Ireland banking market is extremely competitive. You have to make sure all facets of your operation are done on an optimum cost basis."

He says the Northern unit returned to profit in 2014 and is forecast to post profits for the next financial year, although AIB does not publish separate results for the business.

The UK division of AIB, which contains First Trust, made a profit of £87m (€114m) in 2014, compared to a loss of £68m (€89m) in 2013.

That was buoyed by so-called write-backs, where money is set aside to deal with bad debts.

But it doesn't break down First Trust's own results separately. The bank makes up between a quarter and a third of the total UK figure.

Now, owner AIB is going through one of the biggest changes in its make-up, with the Government preparing to sell a 25pc stake in the bank.

"Overall, the IPO (initial public offering) will happen at some point after the general election

"I think the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, has said it will be some time in the window June to September. It clearly depends on who gets into government.

"The real question is, Northern Ireland and the UK is an important part of the overall AIB strategy, and is regarded as an area for growth.

"I would be very confident in our own ability to continue that trajectory in the future, and an IPO isn't going to make any difference to that - I certainly don't see it as a threat."

And banking, and bankers, still have a long way to go to getting trust back from the public, Mr Moore said.

"I think one of the things the banking industry, never mind Northern Ireland, but the UK and the world, have to deal with, is the lack of trust in banking.

"How much we contributed, speaking frankly, I think that's going to take a long time to recover. I think it's improving. In the Republic, banks are still nine or 10 on a list out of 100 (based on trust).

"There's a lot more that the banking industry needs to do."

Irish Independent

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