Ulster Bank has announced a phased withdrawal from the Republic of Ireland over the coming years that will be managed in an “orderly and considered manner”.
The bank, which is owned by UK lender NatWest, has 1.1 million customers here, along with 2,800 staff in 88 branches around the country.
Its Northern Ireland unit, which also uses the Ulster Bank name, is not part of NatWest’s strategic review launched last year.
“Ulster Bank will continue to communicate with customers throughout this process and remains open for business, new and existing through all business channels,” the bank said.
As part of the phased withdrawal, Ulster Bank said that a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with AIB has been agreed for the sale of a €4 billion portfolio of performing commercial loans.
The bank said that staff working on these loans will also transfer to AIB.
It said the potential sale remains subject to due diligence, further negotiation and agreement of final terms and definitive documentation.
Ulster Bank also said it is in early discussions with Permanent TSB about its potential interest in buying certain retail and SME assets, liabilities and operations.
It said these discussions may or may not result in agreement.
“Our preference is to continue to focus our discussions with counterparties who can provide customers with full banking services in the Irish market,” Ulster Bank said today.
Ulster Bank’s chief executive Officer Jane Howard said the decision by NatWest to withdraw from Ireland is “hugely disappointing”.
“Today will be a difficult and worrying time for our colleagues across the bank. It may also lead to customer questions and concerns as to how this decision may impact them and their day-to-day banking needs,” Jane Howard said.
“I want to be clear that there will be no change for customers today, changes will happen over the coming years,” the CEO said.
“Ulster Bank will continue to offer a full banking service in our branches, online and through normal channels for existing and new customers for the foreseeable future,” she said.
“Customers do not need to take any action as a consequence of this announcement. We will communicate with customers in a timely manner over the coming weeks and months,” she added.
Ms Howard also said the bank will now consult with employee representative bodies to determine how best to plan and manage an orderly withdrawal of the Bank over the coming years.
She said there will be no new compulsory departures from the bank this year.
“I am acutely conscious of our responsibilities to our colleagues and I am wholeheartedly committed to managing this process in a fair and responsible manner,” she said.
“The phased withdrawal will include the careful and responsible execution of a strategy over time to deliver constructive solutions for our customers and their banking services within the Republic of Ireland,” she added.
The Ulster Bank CEO said the bank will engage with customers, staff, unions and communities in the coming months to listen to their concerns and to work with them and alongside them and to update on how change will be responsibly managed through the phased withdrawal process.
“Despite the disappointment of this decision, Ulster Bank and NatWest, will work hard to minimise the impact on colleagues and customers and ultimately to provide a successful banking transition for customers,” she stated.
“In the meantime, we remain open for business across all of our channels for both existing and new customers,” she added.
Speaking on Morning Ireland, Jane Howard said the bank is supporting its staff and it is engaging with representative bodies, stating they have same objectives to minimise job losses and to support colleagues where that is not possible.
Ms Howard said the focus now that the decision is made is making sure that the bank completes this phased withdrawal over a number of years in an “orderly fashion” so they “do a good job” for both customers and colleagues.
She said she has met and spoken with many Ulster Bank colleagues so she knows how they are feeling.
She said there is no change right now for customers and Ulster Bank will continue to offer a full banking service.
“No branches will be closing, they don’t need to take any action and we will be communicating with our customers from today,” she stated.
The Ulster Bank CEO refused to be drawn on how many years it will take for the phased withdrawal from Ireland, simply stating that these things take time.
She said the important message is that it will be a number of years and Ulster Bank has time to support customers to transition to another bank.
Ms Howard also moved to reassure employees that with the main consideration of any negotiations with other banks will be the transfer of staff as part of the business being sold.
She said that Ulster Bank had reached a memorandum of understanding with AIB, adding that there is a clear agreement in those negotiations that all the colleagues that support that commercial loan book would transfer.
Ulster Bank’s priority and preference is to work with the full service banks, she added.
Ulster Bank’s parent NatWest today reported a pre-tax loss of £351m for the year to the end of December, better than an average of analyst forecasts of a £418m loss.
The bank had made a £4.2 billion pretax profit in 2019.