TDs cast sceptical eye over new banking culture board

Sinn Féin Senator Rose Conway Walsh

TDs and Senators have cast doubt on the effectiveness of the new board set up to improve the behaviour of banks in the wake of the €1bn tracker mortgage scandal.

The Irish Banking Culture Board (IBCB) was set up with the aim of restoring public trust in the banking system and is chaired by former Court of Appeal judge John Hedigan.

It is being funded by the five main retail banks of AIB, Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank, Permanent TSB, and KBC Ireland. The process to appoint other members of the board began in January.

Members of the Oireachtas Finance Committee expressed scepticism about the board's remit during a hearing involving Department of Finance officials and members of Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), which is a lobby group for the banking industry.

Sinn Féin Senator Rose Conway Walsh said it was hard to see how the oversight of bank behaviour could be established if the entity was being financed by the industry.

She called for financial adviser Padraic Kissane, one of the main figures who exposed the tracker mortgage scandal, to be appointed to the board.

That type of experience was needed if the IBCB was to look out for the customer, Ms Conway Walsh said.

Acting chief executive of the BPFI, Maurice Crowley said that it was a "fair point" to raise questions about the culture board's funding, but that it was not a board that anyone else would be prepared to fund.

Bankers will be a minority on the board "which is the way it should be", Mr Crowley said.

BPFI public policy director Felix O'Regan said the Mr Justice Hedigan had emphasised that the board would see consumer, elderly and business groups represented.

He left the BPFI "in no doubt" that the majority of the board would be made up of non-banking people, Mr O'Regan said.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said there was a "lot of scepticism" as to what could be achieved by the IBCB because of the essence of what banks were.

"The fundamental fact is that banks are interested in maximising profits...who in these institutions is advocating for consumers? It is fine to have a board, but at the end of the day, it's about profits," he said.

Mr Crowley said scepticism was "inevitable" but that the culture of banking was changing as society changed.

He cautioned of the "need to get the balance correct between a clear focus on driving customer-centric culture and potentially over-bureaucratic" measures.

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