Ulster Bank's meltdown is like a return to the 80s

Ulster Bank's meltdown is like a return to the 80s

You’ve probably noticed. The Ulster Bank shambles is now well into its second week. And that’s after they promised everything would be fixed by Monday last.


The so called technical glitch, which ballooned into an on-going “group-wide technical issue”, has affected millions of RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank customers in Ireland and the UK, leaving payments unprocessed and salaries unpaid.


RBS says the problem is now pretty much fixed in the UK. So the millions of salaries that are due to land in bank accounts today should actually show up… in the UK.


Here in Ireland the news is not so good. Ulster Bank says that their customers will have to wait until next week for their accounts to work properly again. And of course this hasn’t gone down at all well. Customers have been quite vocal in their disapproval, and there’s tons of black humour at the bank’s expense online. The Belfast Telegraph summed up how people are feeling – they reckon that RBS is treating Ulster Bank account holders like second class customers.


Ulster Bank’s interim solution has been old-school. Use cash – which you can get from humans at their branches.


Now anyone of my vintage will well remember when Ireland was basically a cash society. You were moving up in the world if you had a bank account at all. When you paid the lecky, you took actual cash to the ESB shop. Your salary came in a brown envelope full of folding money. And the stuff was huge – fifties were like A4s.


Modern banking is supposed to free us from schlepping wedges of cash about the place. If you think about it, that’s all we really need our banks to do. Securely move money from one place to another. Keep the wheels on the economy… It’s why RBS was nationalised by the Brits. It’s a big part of why the banks in Ireland were nationalised. Ulster Bank customers are now getting a sample of what a bank meltdown looks like. It looks like the 80s…


How a crisis is handled is often the measure of an organisation. Mistakes can be forgiven when they are handled well. But Ulster Bank customers, who still haven’t received their salaries or been able to pay their bills and mortgages, are probably not feeling very forgiving. Especially as they can see that the problem has been sorted in the UK. In an almost comedy post on their website, Ulster Bank asks customers to view progress towards its customer commitments – “When we asked you what you wanted from a bank, you said you wanted us to be more helpful…” oh boy…


At bonkers.ie we’ve been fans of Ulster Bank for some time. They are the only bank left where you can still get free day-to-day banking without being stinking rich or jumping through hoops of fire. There was a rumour going around that they were going to start charging fees pretty soon, but I’m guessing they’ll put that on ice for a while. After this mess, I’d say free banking is the only thing that’ll keep customers at Ulster Bank. Oh, and maybe those free sambos they’re laying out at the branches for their customers today.



So maybe this kerfuffle has made you think of switching banks?


Hardly anyone actually does it though. Most people reckon that changing banks will be a huge inconvenience. There’s worry about changing over direct debits, completing paperwork, and having to visit the new bank and the old bank to make sure that everything is set up properly.


What’s little known though, is that the Irish Banking Federation developed something called the Personal Account Switching Code way back in 2005. It was designed to make switching accounts easy and convenient. The major banks signed up. Then the Central Bank made it compulsory in 2010 so the banks now have to help you switch.


So, once you've chosen a new account and started your application to switch, you can decide on the best day to begin the process with your new bank. This would usually be the time of month when there's the least standing order and direct debit activity. Then your new bank will notify your old bank that you're switching so you don't have to. Next your new bank will request a list of standing orders and direct debits from your old bank and let companies like Bord Gais and Electric Ireland know your new details. The new bank will even help make sure payments like your salary are switched over.


The biggest benefit of the code is that it has standardised the switching process across all banks so no matter which bank you choose, it *should* be smooth and easy. You should also be up and running in about ten days with all of your payments and direct debits ready to go. Best of all, the banks will do most of the work for you.


You can read the nuts and bolts of the switching code on the NCA's website here.


And of course you can compare current accounts on bonkers.ie here.


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