Tuesday 20 March 2018

Bowler: IL&P departure is unrelated to bank reform

Gillian Bowler is stepping down at IL&P
Gillian Bowler is stepping down at IL&P

Laura Noonan

IRISH Life & Permanent chairman Gillian Bowler last night insisted her decision to step down from the bancassurer's board was "completely unrelated" to the impending shake-up of Ireland's banking system.

Dubbed the great survivor of the financial crisis, Ms Bowler was the only bank chair or chief executive to remain in situ following the 2008 banking collapse.

She is now set to leave IL&P "in the new year" after tendering her resignation at a board meeting on Tuesday night.

Her departure was announced yesterday, as the Dail rushed through new legislation to overhaul Ireland's banking system and give the Finance Minister unprecedented control over individual banks.

"It was pure coincidence that I did it on this day," Ms Bowler said last night. "If I'd known [the timing of the Dail proceedings] I'd have gone a week earlier."

The Department of Finance declined to comment on the resignation last night but it is understood that there was no pressure from the department for Ms Bowler to step down.

The Budget Travel founder was due to step down from IL&P's board in May when her six-year term came to an end. "I was asked to stay on," she said, adding that she had hoped to lead IL&P through the acquisition of EBS.

That deal was originally expected to close in September, but the bidding process will now run until mid-January as IL&P's offer squares off against a private-equity consortium led by Dublin-based Cardinal.

"Over the last few months it became obvious that the timetable [for EBS] wasn't going to be fulfiled," Ms Bowler said. "IL&P needs someone with the ability to do the [chairman's] job for the next six years.

"Corporate governance rules mean that can't be me."

At the peak of the crisis, Ms Bowler was abused on the street and faced shareholder demands to quit and hand back her salary when it emerged that IL&P had propped up Anglo with almost €8bn of deposits.

At the time, Ms Bowler said she had an "obligation" to stay on until IL&P had been stabilised. IL&P is the only bank not to have received state cash, but is dependent on the government guarantee and Central Bank money to fund its ongoing operations.

The bancassurer has also seen its share price decimated since the crash, and is facing an uncertain future as the Central Bank prepares to carry out further tests in the new year that could yield even higher capital targets.

"I certainly think it's stable now," said Ms Bowler. "The strategy for the bank is strong, the life company is doing well . . . Though obviously I'd like to see the share price higher."

Bruising years

Despite a bruising few years, Ms Bowler said IL&P had "touched" her in a way that only one other company [Budget Travel] ever had.

"It's been a tough two or three years but I really admire the staff, their resilience, and I'm glad I've been here to support them," Ms Bowler said. "But you have to go sometime, you can't stay forever."

In a statement, IL&P said it had already "commenced a process" to find a new chairman "as early as possible in 2011".

Ms Bowler stressed that she would stay in place until then.

As a non-executive director, Ms Bowler will not be entitled to any payoff or pension when she leaves.

The businesswoman said she would devote more time to her recently established online holiday site Click & Go and was also developing plans to work with entrepreneurs who were setting up businesses and needed help getting established.

Irish Independent

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