Business

Ulster Bank boss admits: 'dark days of financial crisis are behind us'

Ulster Bank made a profit of £51m last year and "has put the financial crisis behind it"
Gary McDonald Business Editor

ULSTER Bank "has put the dark days of the financial crisis behind us", its regional head Richard Donnan declared.

And he insisted the business is "back to pre-crisis normality" and now growing on a "sensible and sustainable basis".

He was speaking as Ulster Bank revealed a profit before tax of £51 million for 2018, down slightly on the previous year (£59m) but coming on increased incomes of £191 million.

It maintains four years of unbroken growth at the bank, driven by improved underlying performance across all areas of the business including corporate, consumer and mortgages, which all enjoyed double-digit growth.

“Our renewed focus on the way we serve customers in Northern Ireland is working, and the positive momentum we have had over recent years shows in this impressive results," Mr Donnan said.

“Our core business in Northern Ireland continues to show a positive performance, and our profit before impairments and taxes has risen by over 80 per cent in the last two years (up from £31m to £51m).

Ulster Bank - which has 44 branches ("none of which will shut this year," said Mr Donnan) and 1,750 staff - revealed a 15 per cent increase in new corporate lending and 27 per cent uplift in new small business lending, while new mortgage lending year-on-year soared by more than 30 per cent.

"The fundamentals in every facet of the are all strong," he said.

"We're taking market share and we've secured some significant corporate and commercial business in the housing association, leisure and health sectors during the year."

But like practically every business, the bank is keeping a watching brief on the potential impact of Brexit.

“Brexit is making the broader economic climate uncertain, but we have worked with our customers to help them plan for all eventualities and we'll support them through change. Our plan is to get on with getting stuck into the things we know we can proactively contribute towards," Mr Donnan said.

Ulster Bank's parent company RBS, meanwhile, reported its second successive year in the black and announced a £1.6 billion final dividend, resulting in a near £1 billion windfall for the taxpayer.

The lender, still 62.4 per cent owned by the government, saw bottom line profits more than double from £752 million last year to £1.62 billion, a 116 per cent increase. Full year pre-tax operating profit rose 50 per cent to £3.4 billion.

The stellar figures will prompt the government to consider when to recommence the next round of share sales.

Last week RBS gained shareholder approval that allows it to buy back up to £1.5 billion worth of shares from the Treasury. The move, which aims to speed up its privatisation and deploy excess capital, permits RBS to purchase up to 4.99 per cent of the government's stake in any one year.

RBS has been majority taxpayer owned since 2008, when it received a £45 billion bailout at the height of the financial crisis.

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