The folks at Ulster Bank have glitched themselves back into the headlines again. And you’ve got to hand it to them; they sure don’t do things by halves.
This time around, malfunctions across the vast Ulster Bank, RBS and NatWest banking network stopped online shoppers from buying Christmas pressies on the busiest evening of the year for online shopping. And if that’s not enough, ATMs didn’t work, neither did online banking, and customers who went out to shop were embarrassed at the till when their cards didn’t work. You just couldn’t make this stuff up.
If there’s one place I wouldn’t like to be today, it’s in an Ulster Bank branch or call centre. But in fairness to them, they were quick to chow down on the humble pie, and they did put a big apology up on their website.
They’ve also apologised and acknowledgised on Twitter. In fact, they’ve been quite busy tweeting away since yesterday. The last time they were this busy on Twitter was in the summer of 2012 when they had another big heap of apologising to do for their legendary mega-malfunction; the one that left millions without banking services for weeks at a time.
Ulster Bank sure know how to show themselves up, but they are really just highlighting something we all know already. It’s just not a good time to be a banking customer in Ireland right now. And that’s not just for the 1.9 million Ulster Bank customers…
Little more than a month ago, Danske Bank basically stuck two fingers up to Irish customers and said they were pulling out retail banking in Ireland. No new customers would be signed up, and existing customers, many of whom had travelled the bumpy road from National Irish Bank, would be let go.
There is still no new information from Danske Bank on how they are going to wind down their retail operations either. The bank has said they would write to customers concerning their accounts, but from what we’ve heard so far, that hasn’t happened yet.
So around 160,000 Danske Bank customers are waiting to find out when their accounts will be turned off. Which means that all of those people will be looking for a new bank soon. And in irony of ironies, Ulster Bank has a big “Welcome Danske Customers” page on their website proclaiming that “we would be delighted if you would consider us as your banking partner”.
But it’s not just Ulster Bank and Danske Bank that are making life that little bit harder for banking customers. ACC Bank, although much smaller, has also announced that they are effectively shutting up shop. And then of course there are all those fees.
Most current account customers, who were getting used to free banking, were hit with a blizzard of fees in the summer of 2012, and then those fees were increased in the summer of 2013. Even Ulster Bank, which had held off on introducing fees in 2012 (probably because it would have been considered bad form given their technical difficulties that summer) finally hopped on the bandwagon in 2013.
Now, if you bank with AIB or Bank of Ireland and you don’t have lots of money, you’re probably paying €100 or more per year in fees, and Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank will charge you around €50 per year.
It’s not pretty, but there are still ways to bank for free or at least avoid much of those fees. It can involve changing banks, which has many people worried they’ll suffer a fate worse than Ulster Bank customers in the summer of 2012, but that really needn’t be the case. It’s actually easy enough to change current accounts these days. Sometimes all people need is a little push. Maybe your last statement had fees that were particularly high. Maybe your bank no longer wants you. Or maybe you've had to endure one glitch too many.
Whatever the case, you’re not alone. This year, there has been a huge increase in the number of people switching current accounts. Nearly as many people are now switching each month as we used to see in an entire year. It's remarkable, but perhaps not all that surprising after what current account customers have been through.