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AIB to roll out 24/7 service in 'months'

AIB will unveil a 24/7 lodgement and withdrawal service within "months" and is hoping to offer weekend opening hours soon after, executive chairman David Hodgkinson said yesterday.

The comments came as the AIB boss confirmed the bank was in discussions with the authorities on a "series of proposals" to help struggling borrowers, including measures to 'forgive' a portion of mortgage debt.

The nationalised bank has vowed to rebuild bridges with customers after succumbing to a €20bn taxpayer bailout, and Mr Hodgkinson said he was "confident" efforts to restore AIB would be successful.

But he warned that the bank's massive restructuring project could be "delayed" if it cannot agree an "attractive" package to ensure an upcoming 2,000-strong redundancy round was voluntary.

The 24/7 lodgement and withdrawal service will mark AIB's first major departure from normal working hours and is likely to be implemented on a pilot basis initially.

The lobbies will offer quick lodge-style facilities that will also provide a photocopy of cheques lodged, using new technology that AIB is working on.

Mr Hodgkinson said the first lobbies could appear "within months" but declined to say whether they would be operational in late 2011 or early 2012.

The bank also "hopes to" begin opening at the weekend, he said, but cautioned that it had to "work out how much it would cost" and get agreement from trade unions.

Mr Hodgkinson said the bank had submitted a "series of proposals" to the Central Bank on how to deal with people who can't pay their mortgages and are in serious negative equity.

"We're still engaged in discussions," Mr Hodgkinson said, adding that AIB was due to meet with the Central Bank on the topic today.

He stressed that Ireland needed an "industry-based" solution to the mortgage crisis, but declined to categorically rule out AIB acting alone.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School yesterday, Central Bank deputy governor Matthew Elderfield said the latest banking bailout meant institutions had "more capacity" to restructure debts, but he stressed that any scheme would have to "take account of the risk" that it could encourage borrowers to stop making repayments.

AIB's renewed customer efforts come as the bank continues to struggle to agree a redundancy package that is acceptable to its taxpayer owner and its trade union, the IBOA.

Mr Hodgkinson said that the package "needed to be attractive" if AIB wanted 2,000 staff to sign up to it on a voluntary basis.

Failure to ensure the cuts were voluntary would be "manageable" but would "delay" the bank's restructuring, Mr Hodgkinson warned.

The AIB boss believes a deal with unions and the Government is "not far off", clearing the way for redundancies to begin in the fourth quarter of the year.

The bank is also in the final stages of securing a new chief executive; Mr Hodgkinson said a shortlist had been drawn up.

Asked whether AIB was still pushing to breach the €500,000 banking pay cap, Mr Hodgkinson said the lender had "got to get the right person" to maximise the return on the State's €20bn investment.

Irish Independent