Ulster Bank will start freezing the first tranche of customer accounts today, as part of its phased withdrawal from the country.
Customers were among the first to receive six months’ notice to close their accounts last April, but have yet to do so.
The development comes as the Central Bank said only 38% of Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland current and deposit accounts that were open at the start of this year have so far been closed, leaving around 770 000 still open.
This is despite the opening of more than 800,000 new accounts in the three main retail banks which remain in the market between January and the end of October.
Around 3,600 accounts are expected to be frozen by Ulster Bank today or in the next few days, with the accounts then due to be closed 30 days later.
The bank says it believes customers who have these particular accounts have little dependence on them or may have accounts elsewhere.
More than 70% of those who received their official account closure notification in April and May have already closed them, materially liquidated them or left them inactive, Ulster Bank claims.
He says first-tranche customers who are even more reliant on their accounts won’t see them shut down just yet, and he’ll contact them to offer help.
The process will be done in a careful and controlled manner, he says.
But despite today’s step, the latest data from the Central Bank shows that there is still a lot of work to do before banks have all their accounts closed and can agree to exit the market.
They show that the pace of customer-directed account closures slowed in the second half of last month.
Despite this, there was a 15% increase in account closure activity compared to the four weeks to the end of September, with 84,494 accounts closed.
A total of 464,998 accounts at the two banks have now been closed, split roughly evenly between current accounts and deposits.
This leaves 768,408 open, of which 447,733 are current accounts, of which 341,184 are considered active and 247,116 are considered a client’s main account.
The rate of account openings at the three remaining banks also slowed in October, being 14% lower than in September.
“The continued progress shown in the data we are releasing today is encouraging as we enter the next part of the year with outgoing banks beginning their process of closing accounts on a phased basis,” the director said. of Central Bank Consumer Protection, Colm Kincaid. .
“This account closure exercise is one that we have and will continue to review very closely, as we have reviewed every phase of the withdrawal, to ensure that the clear expectations we have set are met.”
“This includes, but is not limited to, ensuring that no client account is closed until all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure the client has been authorized to change.”
But the Labor Party has called on the Central Bank to clarify whether Ulster Bank has indeed met the necessary criteria to allow active accounts to be closed.
“The consumer protection code which sets out the threshold that Ulster Bank must meet is very clear,” said finance spokesman Ged Nash.
“Ulster Bank must ensure that all pending business is properly completed before… cessation of operations.
“The Central Bank must make clear how it understood this threshold has been reached. If Ulster Bank breaches the Consumer Code, the regulator has an obligation to immediately prevent Ulster Bank from forcibly rebanking its customers .”
He added that the Labor Party has always expressed concern about the arbitrary deadlines set by the Ulster Bank for closure and that he believes that six months is not enough time to close the bank.
That sentiment was echoed earlier this week by the Financial Services Union, which called on the Central Bank to intervene to ensure no customer is left unbanked.