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Ulster Bank fuels Ireland's anger at the country's banks

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Software update by Ulster Bank's parent caused the trouble,
but Ulster Bank's response has been awful.
{Photo from HighStreetAshbourne.ie}
Just when it seemed the reputation of Ireland's banks couldn't sink any lower up steps Ulster Bank to remind everyone of just how much we hate, yes "hate", the banks.

The country is bankrupt thanks to the banks. The landscape is blotted with half built housing developments and empty office buildings, hotels and retail outlets thanks to the banks. The young people are streaming out of the country thanks to the burden the bank debts have placed on the Irish economy.

The Irish people have good cause to detest the country's banks.

The current upset caused by Ulster Bank is not on a par with the bankruptcy of the state caused by the 2008 bank guarantee, but it's still pretty serious.

The trouble all started last Tuesday evening. Ulster Bank's parent, Royal Bank of Scotland, updated their payment processing system. The new software was corrupt and from that moment the bank wasn't able to update their systems to account for payments in or out.

Account balances are frozen as of last Tuesday. No payments in or out are being registered. Wages? They're not there. Paid the gas bill by automated payment? Didn't happen. Deposited a check in the branch? It's not there. Mortgage payments? They're not there, unless you happen to have an Ulster Bank mortgage. Somehow the bank is managing to take their mortgage payments out of their customers' accounts. See what I mean about "hate?"

The bank's communication with its customers and the press has been abysmal since the problem arose. Initially we were assured the problem would be resolved by the end of last week, now we're hoping all's well by next week. In the meantime salaries and bills are going unpaid; companies can't pay one another.
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All of which is bad enough, but yesterday the bank issued a statement urging their "elderly or vulnerable" customers to get in touch. This set me off. This sort of pious drivel is bad enough when I hear it from a campaigning politician, but from a bank?

There are a lot of business owners struggling to survive in the desperate times. Already the press has stories of business being lost by companies that can't access their accounts.

Businesses need access to their money. Small business owners may well not have the time to waste waiting for their local branch to see them.

Besides, why should they be forced to go into the bank as a supplicant when it's the bank's fault? Why should any customer who needs to pay some bills be forced to plead their case in the branch? Why should any customer who just wants access to their money be treated as "vulnerable?"

Of course Ulster Bank is part of a licensed oligopoly so it's not like customers can just go elsewhere with their business. All of Ireland's banks are equally bad, truly indifferent to most of their customers.

Mistakes happen. Software glitches cause havoc. That's the way it is in any industry today, although I wonder why they didn't wait til the weekend to roll out their new software.

It's the response that really sticks in the craw, however. It's the arrogance, the failure to admit the truth, the attempt to sound like a charity or a social worker, a do-gooder that's infuriating.

Only our bankrupt, state-owned banks (Ulster Bank is, fortunately, owned by the British government) still have their superior attitude. Banks, uniquely it seems, can foul up and, time and again, not feel vulnerable while legitimate, profitable businesses, customers and taxpayers pay the price for their errors.

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