Business Irish

Monday 20 May 2019

Finding staff bigger issue than Brexit - bank CEO

Ulster boss highlights firms' woes

NPL issue: CEO Jane Howard says Ulster Bank aims to halve its percentage of bad loans by next year
NPL issue: CEO Jane Howard says Ulster Bank aims to halve its percentage of bad loans by next year
Ellie Donnelly

Ellie Donnelly

A SHORTAGE of workers is a bigger issue than Brexit for many companies, according to Ulster Bank chief executive Jane Howard.

Speaking at her first Oireachtas Finance Committee, Ms Howard said while Brexit is top of the minds for a number of customers, "for many of our business customers, they tell us that labour shortages… is a bigger issue".

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There are shortages of both skilled and unskilled workers, Ms Howard added.

The bank, which is owned by UK-headquartered RBS, is ready to support customers impacted by Brexit "where additional resources and guarantees are required in respect of customs and tariffs," she said.

The hearing was Jane Howard's first in front of an Oireachtas Committee, a forum where a number of senior bankers have struggled under intense pressure since the financial crisis.

However, the English banking executive gave an assured performance and responded calmly to questioning from TDs and Senators.

On the controversial sale of bad loans, Ms Howard said the bank must do more to reduce its bad debt, under pressure from regulators.

Ulster Bank aims to halve its stock of bad loans to 5pc of its portfolio by next year.

Between €900m and €1bn in non-performing loans will have to either be sold or cured, Paul Stanley, chief financial officer of Ulster Bank, told the committee.

Responding to questions from Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty, Mr Stanley agreed that at least 3,600 loans would need to be cured or sold to reach the 5pc ratio.

That target is still higher than the average non-performing loan (NPL) ratio of around 3.5pc across European banks.

The bank plans to sell another portfolio of bad loans in the latter half of this year, most of which will be owner-occupier properties, Mr Stanley said. The exact make up the sale won't be known until the summer.

The bank said it is working with customers in arrears "so that as many customers as possible can remain in their home and paying off their mortgage".

"We have found that when customers work with us, a solution can be found for four out of five, meaning they can remain in their home," Ms Howard said.

The bank also said it has set aside funds for a potential fine from the Central Bank in respect of the tracker mortgage issue, but refused to say how much.

It has set aside €297m in respect of the tracker scandal in total.

Of this, €150m relates to operational costs, €120m has been paid out in compensation and redress, and around €20m is still to be paid out.

Irish Independent

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