Roy Questions Ulster Bank CEO at Stormont Committee

Transcript of exchange between Roy Beggs MLA and Jim Brown CEO Ulster Bank at Stormont, 5/7/12

Mr Beggs: You said that you still have five days of back processing to do. I should put on record my thanks to your front line staff. You have put them in an impossible situation, and I thank them for the way in which they are trying to deal with it.

A constituent of mine contacted me yesterday evening. He is a pensioner, and he was trying to transfer funds to make sure that his mortgage payment went through. There was no visibility, and it was not possible for him to do that. A businessman e-mailed me this morning. He lodged — sorry, placed — some cheques with you on 11 June, some of which have still not cleared. When will there be online visibility so that people can see the progress that you say is happening? That will give them some reassurance that, as of such and such a date, their accounts should, at least, be accurate. Reassurance is a huge issue, and people do not have it at present.

How can the Ulster Bank be credible as a bank if it operates on some fragmented computer system that means that it comes third in the line? How can you be credible with your customers going forward? How will you address that?

Mr J Brown: I will take the question about the computer systems, and I will then hand over to Mr Cruise to talk about some of the specific customer issues. One of the clear things that will have to come out of the review is the exact way that the architecture of the systems should be set up and/or run going forward. Clearly, we have had a significant impact on the business as a consequence of the way that the systems are set up. It is probably too early to jump to any conclusions — at least from my perspective — until that review has been undertaken. The review will work out the cause of the issue and why the contingencies did not work as they should have. That definitely has to be part of the review.

Mr Cruise: I am very interested in the example that you gave about the customer who deposited cheques on 11 June. That is outside the time frame of this incident; I can tell you that categorically.

I have many examples of us having assisted those who are vulnerable. However, we possibly have not got to everyone. Please get your constituents to phone their local branches. We will phone them back, and we can get taxis to either bring staff out to visit the customers or to get them to the branch. We have that process in place. It is well documented, and it was communicated to each of our 90 branches. We are very keen not to miss out on the opportunity to help anyone who is in need, particularly those who are in vulnerable situations.

Mr Beggs: Finally, this has come at a huge cost to many individuals who have suffered throughout the process. It has also been of huge cost to many businesses, even to those that are related peripherally and that may not be your customers directly. They have been caught up in all this. It has also come at huge cost to your organisation, given the associated extra efforts in man hours and costs. Given all those costs, how can any member of senior management in your organisation who failed to adopt appropriate risk management policies take a bonus?

Mr J Brown: I think that we need to wait until the review has been completed to see what the issues were and why the systems and backups did not work. That is the key next milestone for us, once we get through the initial issue of clearing the backlog.

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