Ulster Bank merits only a footnote as NatWest moves forward

Paul Thwaite confirmed as the bank’s new permanent CEO as it announces 20% rise in operating profit across group

All change at NatWest Group on Friday as it reported a record post-crash profit and announced a new chief executive. And, as part of that change, the British banking group’s discontinued Ulster Bank operation in the Republic found itself consigned to the fringes of its results release.

Paul Thwaite becomes CEO on a permanent basis with immediate effect. The former head of the bank’s commercial business had stepped into the role on an interim basis after Alison Rose was forced to step aside last year in the wake of a row over the debanking of Nigel Farage.

And to Thwaite fell the welcome task of announcing an operating pretax profit of £6.2 billion (€7.25 billion) for last year, up 20 per cent on 2022 and the highest profit since the £9.9 billion the bank made just before the global financial crisis in 2007.

However, after generating income of £14.7 billion in 2023, it also fell to the new boss to caution that the bank expects total income for this year to be in a range of £13 billion-£13.5 billion – a larger projected drop than analysts had anticipated.


Lower net interest margins featured too at a bank that, with its peers, has been under pressure from UK regulators over the slow pace at which it had been passing on the benefit of higher savings rates to customers. NatWest said more customers than expected had locked into higher fixed rates.

But Ulster Bank was noticeable by its absence from the key numbers.

In the notes to the financial results, the UK group did mention that the sale of its tracker and linked mortgages to AIB was expected to complete this year, as is the transfer of the outstanding €290 million gross value in non-performing mortgages, unsecured personal loans and commercial facilities to Pepper Finance on behalf of Elmscott Property Finance/CavVal.

It also said the primary reason for the £5.1 billion fall in customer deposits across the group last year was down to the withdrawal from the market in the Republic where outstanding deposit balances at the end of 2023 were €200 million.

It said operating expenses at Ulster Bank last year were £275 million, down from £433 million in 2022. That saw the Irish operation contributing an operating loss of £473 million to the bank’s financial report, again an improvement on the £723 million in the previous year’s numbers.

Having once been a major player in the Irish market, Ulster Bank in the Republic is now consigned to the footnotes of NatWest’s history.