There are concerns for around 600 jobs in Belfast after NatWest announced plans to withdraw Ulster Bank from the Republic of Ireland.
hile the bank’s Northern Ireland operation is unaffected there are around 600 people in Belfast who work as part of the company’s operation in the Republic.
Ulster Bank’s chief executive in the Republic, Jane Howard, said that no branches will be closing this year.
The company said that a strategic review had concluded that Ulster Bank’s operations in the Republic would not achieve an acceptable level of sustainable returns.
It means that the bank will start a phased withdrawal from the region. NatWest said it would try to ensure that job losses are minimised.
Ulster Bank in the Republic of Ireland has 2,800 employees and a 20.5 billion euro loan book. Across the Republic and Northern Ireland, the bank employs 6,000 people.
NatWest chief executive Alison Rose said: “Following an extensive review and despite the progress that has been made, it has become clear Ulster Bank will not be able to generate sustainable long-term returns for our shareholders.
“As a result, we are to begin a phased withdrawal from the Republic of Ireland over the coming years which will be undertaken with careful consideration of the impact on customers and our colleagues.”
Speaking ahead of the announcement, SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin said the move would “create a dangerous situation for consumers and businesses, significantly undermining a competitive market”.
“Ulster Bank is one of only three major banks that operates on a retail basis in both the North and the South, providing all-island, dual currency banking,” the Foyle MLA said.
The party’s economy spokesperson said that given the growing importance of the all-island economy following Brexit, the withdrawal was “particularly harmful and badly timed”.
Mrs McLaughlin said the news would damaging to the interests of consumers, businesses and staff.
“Thousands of jobs across Ireland are dependent upon Ulster Bank and my sincere sympathies and best wishes go to those who may lose their employment,” she said.
“I call on Ulster Bank to act with decency and generosity to those workers who have displayed loyalty to the bank over many difficult years of trading.”
The company was founded in 1836 and became a subsidiary of what is now known as NatWest in 1917.
In 2000, it was taken over by the Royal Bank of Scotland group. It has retail and corporate banking arms.
The bank has around 1.9 million personal and business customers through 174 outlets across the island of Ireland and a business banking presence in every county. It has 110 branches in the Republic of Ireland.
A corporate banking operation looks after business customers. It also provides treasury and money market services, asset financing, online banking and international services.
In 2019, Ulster Bank’s total income fell due to non-performing loans after the sale of a portfolio of mortgages.
Customer deposits had increased and the bank reported higher operating profits a year ago.
NatWest has revealed that it made a pre-tax operating loss of £351 million in 2020.
It came after the business took a £3.2 billion impairment charge for the year, accounting for loans it expects could fail, to a large extent because of the economic stress caused by Covid-19.
The impairment was below the £3.5 billion to £4.5 billion range that the bank had previously said it expected to report for 2020.