I am an Irish citizen, born in Dublin, who left unintentionally and is now living in the UK. I have a non-residential current account with Ulster Bank (Republic of Ireland), which I opened in preparation for leaving the UK after my retirement in the next few years. So far, the Bank of Ireland and AIB have both refused to allow switching of my account, due to my non-residential status.
One suggestion was I transfer it to a UK bank, which is the opposite of what I want as I intend to be back in EU territory permanently and sterling is rapidly losing its value since Brexit and more recently due to the dire performance of the UK economy.
This seems discriminatory activity by Bank of Ireland and AIB unless it is an official policy. My account was good enough for Ulster Bank, but apparently not Bank of Ireland or AIB. What other options do I have?
There is no information on the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland site available for account holders in my situation. Similarly, I can’t open an account with ‘Banq’ as UK residents are not eligible for this online bank.
Mr R.M., Scotland
There is no doubt that the exodus of customers to new banks with the imminent departure of both Ulster Bank and KBC form the Irish market is challenging. More than a million accounts need to be swapped across to new operators over the next few months.
In its first update on how things are going, the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland said last week that 220,000 accounts had already made the move. That sounds good, and it is not to be sneezed at. But the truth is that these are likely to be the least challenging cases, the low hanging fruit.
It is also clear that the banks do not help themselves. Those transfer updates are not being put out because the banks embrace the additional workload. It is because the Central Bank, tired of a drip-feed of reports of the difficulties customers were encountering, hauled the banks in for a ticking off and a requirement that they would up their game.
The biggest single gripe people have is that they cannot actually get someone to talk them through the process. Banks appear have gone to great lengths to keep customers at arm’s length. This, one assumes, is down to the fact that they are struggling for staff resources to interact personally with customers as they have been shedding staff liberally over recent years.
Customers are well used to having to conduct business impersonally, even if they have a local bank branch and actually make the effort to get into it. It can be challenging for older and more vulnerable customers — especially those uncomfortable with or unable to operated online banking channels. It is also difficult for customers whose banking arrangements or need are anything other than the most straightforward. But it is doable for many straightforward banking transactions — as long as regular service interruptions do not effectively lock you our of your accounts online
Changing bank is an altogether more complicated thing and, for many people traumatic. They may not have had to deal with setting up an account since their student days and the bills, subscriptions and interbank transfers built up over an adult lifetime make it an altogether more daunting experience.
The end result, according to reports, is that customers are having to wait on the end of phone lines for hours at a time — presumably making some yearn for the halcyon days of Eir’s “lack of customer service” operation.
Even worse, as you have discovered, when you do get through, you are liable to be fed blatant misinformation. Not only are there not enough staff allocated to this admittedly challenging project but it appears they have been poorly trained by the banks who one would have thought were actively chasing business. And there seems to be no process in place for call centre staff, unsure about a particular situation, to simply pass it up to a more comprehensively informed supervisor.
Your position is hardly unique. You’re Irish and, from your use of the word “unintentionally”, I assume you emigrated for work in the early 1980s as was common at the time because there simply weren’t the jobs here for school leavers and graduates. Many of these people have since managed to return home: others, like you, are looking to do so after you retire.
In the circumstances, it made perfect sense that you would be open a legitimate non-residential account with a bank here to prepare the ground financially for your eventual return. This is absolutely legal and above board.
With Ulster Bank now closing, you contacted the two largest banks in the State and were told that, by virtue of your non-residential status, you could not switch your account to another Irish banking provider. This is absolute rubbish. I am reliably informed by one of the banks themselves that they are opening dozens of such accounts every week.
In fact, both banks not only make clear on their websites that they offer non-resident accounts, they set down in details exactly what is required to do so.
Ulster Bank, to whom I also spoke, made it explicitly clear that “the Central Bank of Ireland’s Switching Code allows non-resident customers, to use the same account switching process as someone who is residing is the Republic of Ireland”.
And for its part, a spokesperson for the Central Bank said: “The Irish banking system faces a challenge in making sure that account migration goes well, and we have made our expectations clear – banks must protect customer’s interests.”
I also spoke to the other two banks — and to your other option, Permanent TSB and the Central Bank.
Bank of Ireland put their hands up and said you had been given incorrect information.
“We sincerely apologise for the error,” a spokeswoman for the bank said. “Following this error, we are reiterating our processes to our customer service agents and providing additional training.” They also offered to get one of those agents to contact you directly if you want to progress your application.
They clarified that, to open an account, you will need scanned copies of two separate proofs of identity and one proof of address, such as a utility bill other than a mobile phone bill, or a bank statement. For understandable money laundering purposes, all these documents will need to be notarised by either a solicitor or a police officer.
Over at AIB, the position is marginally different.
You need to choose which branch you want to bank out of. In this case you need one certified proof of ID and two certified proofs of address — one of which can be replaced by a “bank to bank reference”. AIB has a broader church of acceptable signatories. They include a solicitor, a chartered or certified accountant, an elected government official (either local or national), a member of embassy or consular staff, an official at a regulated financial institution or a public notary.
The set-up at Permanent TSB is broadly the same as Bank of Ireland, with the list of those eligible to certify closely matching that at AIB, with the added inclusion of doctors.
Interestingly, however, Permanent TSB requires a non-resident opening an account to demonstrate a need for a bank account in Ireland.
It doesn’t apply to you, as you’re in Scotland, but for non-resident customers in countries like France or Spain where the utility bills would not be in English, they would need to be translated. I understand there are companies that specifically offer this service.
All the banks offered to check on your application but the fact is that you never got that far as, you tell me, the staff put in place by the bank to deal with the switch “ended the conversation as soon as I said I was non-resident current account holder with Ulster Bank”. And when you tried to use their mobile banking apps, they automatically cancelled the process once the apps recognised you were using a UK number. This is worrying as it holds open the prospect that you are far from alone in being misled.
You tell me that you even offered to fly to Dublin to make an application in person if that would address the concerns raised in your phone conversations with the two banks. That made no difference, you say. As it happens, all three banks assure me that opening of non-resident account can be done remotely as long as you have that paper work done correctly, so there is no need for you to come over to complete the arrangement.
In this case, both banks you contacted have offered to smooth your passage if you are happy for me to pass on all your details. However, I would like to think that after this wake-up call, a succinct reminder has gone out to all staff dealing with enquiries from customers looking to switch banks — not just the one promised by Bank of Ireland — so that people going through the stress of changing bank can receive the service they should expect without having to take exceptional steps.
The Central Bank does says it, for some customers, including those who live outside the EU, it expects that opening a new bank account in Ireland may require additional time or administration.
“You do not have to wait for your bank to contact you. You can open a new account with any provider at any stage and give yourself more time to complete the process,” a spokesperson said. “Even if you choose to wait until you get a notification from Ulster Bank or KBC Bank, you may want to begin thinking about where you might move to.”
Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street Dublin 2, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice