Is it time for Ulster and KBC Bank customers to switch?
If you are a customer of Ulster Bank or KBC, you may want to start thinking about what bank you will switch to when they withdraw from the Irish market.
While both banks say no action is required at the moment, it is worth being prepared well in advance of the closures.
Ulster Bank has said it will contact customers directly early next year, and plans to give current and deposit account holders up to six months’ notice to close their account and switch.
Meanwhile, KBC has said it will give customers at least 60 days notice.
From bank charges, to online capabilities, there are a number of things you should consider before deciding what bank is best for you.
How many banks are there to choose from?
Once Ulster Bank and KBC withdraw from the Irish market, there will be eight providers left offering current account services here.
These are AIB, An Post, Bank of Ireland, The Credit Union, EBS, N26, Permanent TSB and Revolut.
We’ve asked Daragh Cassidy from comparison website Bonkers.ie, to outline the main differences between the current account services provided by the remaining bank.
What banks have the most branches?
If you are someone who likes to pop into the bank every week to lodge a cheque or withdraw cash, then you should make sure you choose a provider with a branch nearby.
AIB and Bank of Ireland both have a similar sized branch network, and the largest in the country.
AIB has 170 branches, while Bank of Ireland has 169.
Permanent TSB has at much smaller presence with 76 branches, although Mr Cassidy said it is due to take on 25 of Ulster Bank’s branches over the next few years.
An Post has over 900 post offices nationwide, and it allows customers of AIB and Bank of Ireland to carry out their day-to-day banking in its offices.
Meanwhile, as true online-only banks, Revolut and N26 have no physical banks.
If you hardly ever set foot inside a bank and prefer to do your banking online – then a physical presence may not be something you need to consider when choosing a new provider.
What banks are best for cash users?
If you prefer using cash to credit or debit cards, the online-only banks are probably not the best option for you.
Mr Cassidy said cash users might want to avoid N26 and Revolut.
“As both are branchless, you won’t be able to lodge any cash – and taking out cash could cost you dearly too,” he said.
Mr Cassidy said people should be aware that N26 allows three fee-free ATM withdrawals a month – but after that a €2 fee per withdrawal applies.
Revolut allows you to withdraw a maximum of €200 a month fee-free and you’re only allowed five free withdrawals a month.
After you’ve reached either limit, you’re charged €1 or 2% per withdrawal, whichever is higher.
Meanwhile, AIB will charge you 35 cent for every withdrawal.
While that might not seem like a lot, Mr Cassidy warned that these fees can quickly add up.
Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB charge nothing extra for cash withdrawals and both have a high-street presence.
“These could be good options for those who use cash a lot,” Mr Cassidy said.
On the other hand, he pointed out that PTSB pays you 10 cent every time you use your card in store or online, up to a maximum of €5 a month.
“This could make it a good option for those who use their card a lot,” he added.
What banks have the best online services?
Each provider’s online capabilities differ hugely, so if you plan to do most of you’re banking online, choose carefully.
“N26 and Revolut lead the pack here and have almost revolutionised what is possible to do on your phone with your money,” said Mr Cassidy.
He pointed out that EBS on the other hand doesn’t even have a mobile app – though it does have online banking that you can access from a laptop or desktop.
Mr Cassidy said PTSB’s app is “quite basic” and doesn’t yet provide for fingerprint or face login for example.
Meanwhile, AIB requires a card reader for certain online transactions, meaning you may be caught out if you don’t have the device handy.
If you like to tap and pay with your phone or watch, you should take note of what mobile payments the different banks offer.
“Most providers now offer at least either Apple Pay and Google Pay, but FitBit and Garmin Pay are less widely available,” Mr Cassidy said.
However, he pointed out that the EBS account doesn’t offer any mobile payments at all.
What banks have the highest charges and fees?
Bank fees and charges can be hard to keep track of.
While some banks charge a flat monthly fee, others charge per transaction.
The Credit Union charges a €4 monthly fee, An Post €5, PTSB €6, and Bank of Ireland €6.
After this, most of your day-to-day banking is free with all these providers.
However, Mr Cassidy said An Post will charge you 50c for every cash or cheque lodgement, and 60c for every ATM withdrawal.
“Though this reduces to 50c at an An Post Office, and you get one free withdrawal a week,” he added.
With the Credit Union you get five fee-free ATM withdrawals a month – then a 50 cent charge applies.
EBS, N26 and Revolut do not charge a monthly fee.
However, as mentioned earlier, hefty fees can apply when withdrawing cash with the online-only banks.
Meanwhile, AIB charges for almost every type of transaction and Mr Cassidy said this could work out quite expensive for people who are medium to heavy account users.
But if you’re a student, graduate or over the age of 66, the good news is most fees are waived by all providers.
Mr Cassidy said none of the banks charge for mobile or contactless transactions – for now.
What others features are worth considering?
Ulster Bank has a feature that allows you to block or freeze your debit card if you misplace it, and then unfreeze it once you find it.
Among the remaining providers, only AIB, An Post, N26 and Revolut offer that feature at present.
“So if you’re a customer of Ulster Bank who’s got use out of this feature before and values it, it’s something to consider,” said Mr Cassidy.
He said it is also important to note that N26 will give you a German Iban when you open an account, while Revolut will give you a Lithuanian one.
“This can cause issues for people, as some employers and companies can’t recognise the non-Irish account numbers,” he warned.
Meanwhile, in terms of an overdraft facility Mr Cassidy said neither An Post, the EBS MoneyManager account, N26 or Revolut offer an overdraft at present.
“If you currently have an overdraft or think you might want one in the near future, this is something to consider,” he added.
What’s not important when choosing a current account?
There’s a misconception among Irish people that if you’re taking out a mortgage, it will help with your application if you have your current account with the bank in question.
But Mr Cassidy said nothing could be further from the truth.
“Your mortgage application will be based on your income, ability to repay, and current employment status.
“Who you have your current account with will have no bearing on whether or not your application will get approved,” he said.
Is the switching process complex?
While you can open an account with a new provider online, often within minutes, switching from one bank to another is a bit more complicated.
All direct debits and standing orders need to be moved over, and Mr Cassidy warned that this takes time.
“You can use the Central Bank’s switching code of conduct or you can do most of it yourself,” Mr Cassidy explained.
“If you use the code of conduct, your old bank has to help you transfer over direct debits and standing orders,” he explained.
However, he pointed out that many payments for things like Netflix, Amazon Prime, M50 tolls, Spotify, and GoMo are taken from your debit card as recurring payments – they’re not direct debits taken from your account.
“It’s up to you to go online and update all your payment details for these types of things yourself,” he said.
You will also need to let your employer know your new account details, as neither your old bank nor your new bank can do this for you.
Finally, you will need to register for and set up your new online baking, download your new bank’s app and re-set up Apple or Google Pay on your phone or watch.
Will there be a rush of people looking to switch?
Ulster Bank alone has around 500,000 current account customers.
Mr Cassidy pointed out that a bank that big has never left Ireland before.
“You don’t want to go looking for a new current account provider at the same time as over half a million other people,” he said.
KBC is set to withdraw from the Irish market shortly after Ulster Bank, meaning there will be a second wave of customers looking to switch.
“There’s no need for people to rush or panic but I’d advise customers to make it their New Year’s resolution to change in January or February perhaps,” he advised.
What is the latest advice from Ulster Bank?
Ulster Bank is encouraging customers to consider their options, avail of supports and get ready to choose a new banking provider.
“Over the coming months we will engage with customers, including those who might need more support, to help them to get ready to choose a new provider, with a view to move and close their accounts,” the bank said in a statement.
While the bank was quick to point out that customers do not need to take ant action at the moment, it said customers can switch now if they are ready to do so.
“Ulster Bank encourages our personal customers who are ready now to contact us on 0818 210 260 to arrange an appointment or call into a branch where we will be able to help customers, who are ready, on an individual, personalised basis to prepare to choose, move and close their current and deposit account,” the bank said in a statement.
It said mortgage customers do not need to take any action for now.
“We are in discussions with other banking counterparties in the Irish market to transfer these mortgages with their existing terms and conditions.
“We will contact customers when there is a further update,” the Ulster Bank statement said.
Meanwhile, business customers who are ready to move their accounts now, can contact Ulster Bank on 0818 211 690 or through their relationship manager.
What is the latest advice from KBC?
Unlike Ulster Bank, KBC Bank Ireland is not actively encouraging customers to prepare for the changes on the way.
When contacted by RTÉ business for advice for customers, it once again said customers do not need to take any immediate action.
It said the binding agreement with Bank of Ireland remains subject to all the relevant regulatory approvals.
“KBC Hubs, Contact Centre and Digital Channels continue to operate as normal and are continuing to accept new applications for Current Accounts, Mortgages, Deposits, Personal Loans, Life, Home and Car Insurance and Personal Credit Cards,” a spokesperson for the bank said,
The spokesperson said KBC will ensure all customers, including current account customers, are provided with “plenty of notice” of any changes to their account in line with all legal and regulatory protections.
“For example should customers be required to switch or close their current account, KBC would provide customers with at least 60 days’ notice,” the spokesperson said.