Business Irish

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Ulster Bank’s Jim Brown refuses to rule out bonus

Ulster Bank boss Jim Brown

Press Association

ULSTER Bank's chief executive has refused to rule out pocketing an annual bonus despite a systems failure leaving thousands of customers without cash.

Jim Brown said he will decide at the end of the year if he will accept a lump payment for his performance - just minutes after saying that up to 600,000 Irish customers have been affected by the bank's major IT meltdown.

The bank has already said it will compensate customers affected by the three-week problem, which it hopes to have cleared by Monday week.

But its chief refused to commit himself to not taking a bonus at the end of the year.

"Bonuses are reviewed at the end of the year and are based on a whole bunch of different factors," said Mr Brown.

"If I'm entitled to a bonus then I'll make that call at the time. I wouldn't exclude the possibility either way."

The bank initially estimated that about 100,000 customers across the country had been affected by the error, some with limited or no access to their funds at all.

Mr Brown told an Oireachtas committee the figure is much higher than originally believed and that at least half of Ireland's 1.1 million customer base has suffered.

The banking boss unreservedly apologised to customers and said the situation was unacceptable, but he refused to be drawn on calls for his resignation.

He admitted he should take responsibility for Ulster Bank's failings in recent weeks, but said his current priority was to help the bank recover.

"My focus right now is getting the bank back to normal as quickly as possible," said Mr Brown.

The chief executive would not reveal his salary for this year to cross party politicians in Dublin, adding the figures would be disclosed in the bank's annual report when published in October.

However, Mr Brown confirmed he did accept his last bonus, which was based on his performance in areas such as risk management and compliance control.

Earlier, at a Stormont committee in Belfast, Mr Brown said details of compensation payments to customers in financial difficulties because of computer problems at the bank will be ready within days.

He also promised an independent investigation into the IT failure which left many customers with unpaid bills.

"It is unacceptable and our customers should expect better from us," he said.

"No customer will be left out of pocket as a result of this incident."

The system for processing payments - which had worked properly for 25 years - broke down on the evening of June 19 when maintenance on the computer system interfered with the processing of payments for the day's trading, he said.

That meant the next day many customers' balances had not been updated.

By the time that technical problem was resolved there was a backlog of payments pending - including the updating of accounts, direct debit payments, benefits and mortgages.

Chris Sullivan, an executive at the Ulster Bank's parent company, the Royal Bank of Scotland, said the bank still did not know exactly what had caused the IT problem, adding that would be addressed by a forensic, open and transparent independent review into what went wrong, which would be shared with regulators, customers and the rest of the industry.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny criticised the lack of service for customers of Ulster Bank.

"It's not acceptable in this day and age that people should have to put up with the fears and the anxieties - and the loss of service - that's been there," he told Galway Bay FM.

"Now Ulster Bank are obviously trying to rectify this, but you have to rely on people at the coal face of what went wrong here to fix it, and I hope it's fixed very quickly."

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