Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
AIB has denied offering “special” debt write-down deals for high-profile customers, saying each loan is approached on a case-by-case basis.
It comes after RTÉ reported that former Kilkenny hurler DJ Carey secured a significant settlement with AIB in 2017 on a loan worth more than €9.5 million.
Representatives of AIB appeared before the Oireachtas finance committee on Thursday following requests from TDs that questions be answered about its debt write-down policy.
AIB’s managing director of retail banking Jim O’Keeffe told the committee they were aware of recent commentary about its approach to debt write-downs, but were unable to discuss the details of an individual’s case.
“Unfortunately, many aspects of this commentary have been incomplete and have not presented the full picture,” he added.
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said that people had been asking if the bank has a policy for the top 1 per cent in the country that differs for the rest of the population.
“We do not,” Mr O’Keeffe said.
“We deal with every case consistently and fairly, we have a governing set of policies that are reviewed internally, right up to the board. We have a regulator who quite correctly monitors our activity.
“I can categorically tell you, there are no special deals for special individuals coming to AIB.
“And I do apologise to our customers who have been put through torture over the past week to 10 days, where they’ve been made to feel that they have been subjected to something that doesn’t happen for a wider group.
“I can assure you, that is not the case.”
In its opening statement, the majority State-owned bank said that, excluding those who went through a bankruptcy or insolvency process, about 1,900 borrowers received a reduction of more than 90 per cent of their loan.
#OireachtasTV – Watch LIVE as the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach meets for a discussion with representatives from @AIBIreland regarding debt write-down policy #SeeForYourselfhttps://t.co/GbTW1DYjkk https://t.co/IJXhHwsAMn
— Houses of the Oireachtas – Tithe an Oireachtais (@OireachtasNews) March 2, 2023
The bank said that this represents just over 1 per cent of 150,000 customer resolutions reached since 2015.
“They were subjected to the same consistent policy application, there were no special deals in that 1,900,” Mr O’Keeffe told the committee.
When asked how many of the 1,900 loans were worth more than €1 million, or what was the total value of the write-downs, Mr O’Keeffe said “it is not a number that we disclose today”.
He said that the 1,900 would have included loans worth over €1 million, but they were not the majority.
Questioned further on the nature of those loans, Mr O’Keeffe said that the bank would consider disclosing more information, but there were concerns about commercial sensitivity.
“The details just on the 1,900 cases is not disclosed. In fairness, that was new information that was requested by the committee, we provided the information to give you a sense as to the scale of the write-down that was taking on in relation to the 90 per cent plus,” he said.
“There is an element that is commercially sensitive because we have to look at what is the way that we operate our write-down policy, etc. So I need to take that away.”
He said that the total value of all write-downs between 2015 and 2021 is €3.5 billion, and was publicly available.
Labour senator Marie Sherlock said that the committee appearance was important because despite the State having a majority stake in AIB, “taxpayers have little or no transparency as to the type and scale of write-downs that you offer your customers”.
Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said it should be “clearly illustrated” to the public why debt is written off.
“I think it’s very important that the general public get to know that the rules that are being applied are the same rules for everybody and that there is no suggestion anywhere of a special deal for special people or for preferential borrowers.”
Mr O’Keeffe said that if Mr Durkan had examples of where the bank had not been consistent about writing down debt, that it would be “concerning”.
Responding to Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy, Mr O’Keeffe said that he could understand the frustration of some people who could not reach a resolution with the bank, but they have certain obligations in recovering debt.
“You’re owed a million, somebody says ‘we’ll pay you half a million, you won’t get any better than that anywhere else’,” he said.
“That is irrelevant to us, because we have to work through the financial standing of the customer. And very often we don’t get the right information shared with us.
“We don’t get the sworn statements shared with us. We don’t get the information to prove that we’re not leaving debt on the table.
“If we are not getting the full disclosure, we cannot take the risk of leaving money on the table at a later date at a committee such as this being accused of not being consistent across the board.”
Chairman of the finance committee, Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said there had been “significant disquiet” from the public about how debt write-down is approached.
“I’ve found every engagement with your bank and every other bank to be robust and very challenging, and with no certainty of any outcome, and I think that’s the way it should be.
“Because that challenges your systems. It also challenges the customer that’s in difficulty – if it were to be easier than that, then we would really be asking questions.
“So the real question is, is it fair? Is the system fair to everyone? And is the playing field level for everyone? That’s the reassurance that we were seeking from your bank today.”
He asked the bank to “allay the fears that people have expressed” since media reports of a significant debt write-down for a high-profile person.
“I think that will be hugely important not just for your bank and for other banks, but for the general consistency in quieting the significant public disquiet for people who have maybe settled with you or gone through processes and reflected ‘If I had known that, I would have approached it quite differently’.
“So I think you owe it to customers that you’ve settled with as much as you owe it to the customers that are looking for debt resolution,” he said, asking the bank to “flesh out” answers to some questions that had been asked by TDs.