Saturday 25 January 2020

Doherty's biggest test as investors look for answers

The Government may not have wanted him, but Colm Doherty, AIB managing director, doesn't look like a man who craves external popularity.

Compared to the somewhat more rarified and aloof character that was Eugene Sheehy, Doherty is a more robust personality, who has no hesitation in fronting up to the bank's critics, of whom there are a multitude.

But can Doherty deliver amid the tough talk? Next week the former head of capital markets gets his first chance to update investors on the bank's asset sales, when the company presents its numbers for the first six months. Fairly or unfairly, investors are demanding tangible information on where the sales of M&T and Bank Zachodni are moving.

Talk of shortlists and ongoing negotiations are unlikely to be sufficient to answer the accusation that AIB is ultimately heading towards majority State control. It is time to engage with the investor community and give a precise outline of how AIB is going to raise the €7.4bn in fresh capital it requires.

Doherty so far has talked about AIB using "self help'' measures to get towards this target, but the sales of the M&T stake, Zachodni and the UK business and a few more bond buy-backs will still leave the bank massively short of their €7.4bn target.

The other way it can boost its capital levels is through retained earnings, but that is tied up with the whole sensitive problem of what kind of profits will AIB make in future and what its cost base will be.

Again, Doherty needs to come clean about both those subjects. The thorny cost issue at AIB (and at other Irish banks) also needs to be faced up to.

Cost reductions will involve job losses, but the alternative is lower profits to absorb losses and ultimately a greater need for state capital. Doherty must make that argument, even though indications are that the bank will avoid a direct demand for job cuts next week.

Either way, Doherty was buffeted by a hugely negative reaction when he took up the top job at AIB, next week he gets the first chance to recover some ground.

Irish Independent

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