Business

New-look Ulster Bank back in profit as income jumps to £176 million

Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE slimmed-down version of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland is back in profit, back lending money - and is also back reporting regional results.

Figures reveal that the bank made a pre-tax profit of £58 million in the 2016 calendar year while its total income was up four per cent to £176 million.

Ulster Bank also took a heft chunk out of its operating costs, which fell from £154m to £145m.

It is the first time in nearly two decades that detailed figures have been available for Ulster Bank's business in Northern Ireland (previously it reported on an all-island basis), and it comes following closer alignment with NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Write backs in impairment charges of £27 million made up nearly half of the Ulster Bank profits (this is money previously set aside to cover losses which can then released following better-performing loans).

"These figures demonstrate that we are a strong, safe and profitable bank that plays an active and leading role in supporting personal and business customers across Northern Ireland in achieving their ambitions," Ulster Bank's regional head Richard Donnan said.

"We're up 17 per cent on current accounts and 15 per cent on mortgages, while our lending to small businesses - that's those turning over less than £2 million - has risen by 40 per cent year on year.

"We're also adapting to increasing customer demand for digital service through our mobile app, with around 26 million online banking transactions in 2016 and a 40 per cent increase in our digital and mobile logins since September 2015.

"And we're doing 30 per cent more lending now to corporate and commercial customers, which is another strong element to the business," Donnan added.

Ulster Bank - still part of the 72 per cent-government owned RBS - employs more than 2,000 staff across its Northern Ireland operations, which includes 64 bank branches (though this will reduced to 55 by the end of the year).

"We're a different and leaner operation today than we were a few years ago, and believe we've got the right mix for business and personal customers here and are well positioned for future sustained growth," said Donnan.

He insisted Brexit won't have a major impact on businesses in the north "provided they control the controllables and give themselves options", and said he "hasn't detected a change in the risk appetite" among Ulster's business customers.

Donnan said: “Our ambition is to be the number one bank for customer service, trust and advocacy by providing meaningful help for what matters to our customers.

"We have done that with our customers by supporting some of the largest corporate investments in Northern Ireland in the fields of healthcare, agri-food and hospitality, despite broader uncertainty.

He added: “We still have work to do to manage our costs in order to grow our business in a sustainable way, but we have made significant progress on that front and I am pleased that within these results we have impairment write backs of £27m, driven by improved residential and commercial property market conditions increasing collateral values and generating the release of provisions.”

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