How the banks act now will determine how they are perceived in the future

Marion Kelly large portrait photo

Our country is experiencing unprecedented challenges as a result of Covid-19. How we as individuals and companies treat those who rely on us during these difficult times will impact on our reputations and trust levels for many years to come. The restoration of trust goes to the heart of what the Irish Banking Culture Board (IBCB) was established to do. Since our launch in April 2019, each of our member banks has expressed their strong commitment to supporting the objectives of the IBCB in improving customer outcomes and advocating for humanity, decency and respect in the banking sector.

The IBCB’s current work programme is focussed on nine themes. Each theme has a working group composed of senior representatives from our member banks and board members representing a range of stakeholders. A number of these themes are focussed specifically on issues that are already emerging from the current crisis. These include the needs of vulnerable customers; the importance of clear, transparent and timely communications with bank customers, in particular during times of personal, and indeed, systemic crises; supports for local communities, especially rural Ireland, and supports for bank staff.

We welcome the efforts that each of our five member banks have been making over the past weeks to work collectively to come up with solutions quickly that will ease the financial burden on customers faced by the unprecedented impact of Covid-19. Like many other retail employers, banks have been faced with the challenges of ensuring the health and safety of their employees in branches across the country while continuing to provide services to the public. A range of measures have been put in place in relation to this, in addition to pay arrangements to support staff impacted by the virus and those in carer roles.

Many remain unclear on aspects of how the solutions will work and are finding it difficult to get responses from their banks.

Through our non-bank board members and contacts in the charitable sector, particularly those working directly with impacted consumers and bank staff, we are hearing daily about the ongoing concerns of individuals faced with the developing financial impact of Covid-19. Many remain unclear on aspects of how the solutions will work and are finding it difficult to get responses from their banks. We have been in contact with our member banks in relation to this and also with the banking industry’s representative body, the BPFI. We recognise that the banks are dealing with huge volumes of calls and contacts from customers seeking details and clarifications on the terms of the various solutions. To assist with this, explanatory materials and guidance are available on the individual bank’s websites and via the BPFI. These are being added to on an ongoing basis. The IBCB would emphasise that in order to avoid further financial difficulties in the future, it is critical that each individual looking to avail of options such as repayment breaks ensures they are fully informed of the terms associated with these and what their repayments will be once the break is over.

While this crisis is affecting every one of us to some extent, we must ensure that we are paying particular attention to the needs of the vulnerable at this time. Vulnerable means many different things. Those who were vulnerable prior to Covid-19 may well now face an exacerbation of their circumstances, while a whole raft of others are now vulnerable solely because of the impact of the virus on their health and/or financial circumstances. The longer that this crisis continues, the more financial issues will arise for individuals and the more likely they will need to look to their banks for some exceptional supports.
It is critical that impacted people feel reassured about how day to day banking issues that will arise such as fees and charges associated with unpaid direct debits, unauthorised overdraft fees and quarterly account maintenance fees will be treated in the coming period. We are in the eye of the storm at present, and it is completely understandable that not all of these issues have yet been considered fully by banks. However, we call on our member banks to consider their approaches and ensure that they communicate clearly and transparently with their customers as soon as is possible.

The IBCB’s role is to represent all of the industry’s stakeholders, particularly those with less of a voice. We expect that at all times, each of our member banks, will maintain their commitment to the IBCB’s principles of fairness, transparency and respect. We acknowledge the measures the banks have taken to date and call on them to consider, individually and collectively (through the IBCB or other bodies), the further exceptional supports that may be required at this time to protect their customers and wider stakeholders during this period of unprecedented challenge for our country. It is essential that the public can see, and experience, actions being taken by the industry to support them through these difficult times, to the brighter days that lie ahead.

The IBCB can be contacted at info@ibcb.ie