Thursday 26 April 2018

Head of the 'least-worst' lender has bad news for homeowners

Ciaran Byrne

THE snow had stopped yesterday but there was a nasty blizzard up on the panoramic seventh floor of the Bank of Ireland's Dublin headquarters.

Inside, the audience was being blinded by an hour-long storm of jargon and chat about going forward, pricing of products, debt ratios, quantums and so on and so on.

From their top-deck eyrie, the bank's top guns can see all of Dublin's landmarks, including the new Aviva stadium, Leinster House and Liberty Hall.

What jumped out yesterday was the lack of builders' cranes visible on Dublin city's skyline. Just a few short years ago they jostled for space in it during the boom.

But you could see the distant roof of the Shelbourne Hotel and, near it, the home of Anglo Irish Bank -- the ultimate zombie patient to BoI's semi-comatose version.

Still, the financial nerds at yesterday's press conference suggested Bank of Ireland was in "least-worst shape" -- wasn't that something?

"That's not a proud boast," intoned Mr B.

The bank's splendidly named Richie Boucher was in full Dalek mode (or should that be zombie?) for his answers were delivered with textbook robotic-ness.

The chief executive was asked if his bank would be putting up mortgage rates on its unfortunate customers.

While he didn't quite reply "Exterminate, exterminate, exterminate", he did say this: "We will be looking at pricing on an ongoing basis . . . we'll be looking at that on an ongoing basis . . . we will be looking at that on an ongoing..."

At points, the dour Mr Boucher seemed nervous and garbled his words. He talked about putting bad loans into something called "Llama" and of "maxim-imising" profits.

Mostly though he tried to make the best of a bad lot. "There's no point railing against the world and whinging," said Mr Boucher. Indeed.

The figures were car-crash territory; a pre-tax loss of €2.9bn and no shareholder dividends for some time yet.

Little was said about real people -- the customers who will be screwed in the coming years on charges and fees to pay for the mistakes of Mr Boucher and his predecessors.

One newspaper had yesterday declared on its front page that a number of former bankers should be "shot" over the recent financial fiascos.

"I'd rather not be shot," laughed Mr Boucher but he still risked the wrath of his ordinary customers when, after plenty of pressing, he answered the big question.

"Yes, mortgage rates will go up," he said. Finally, a straight answer -- even though it was more bad news.

Irish Independent

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