So much for switching from Ulster Bank to KBC!

Personal Finance columnist Jill Kerby is shocked that KBC is set to withdraw from the Irish market. She, like so many of us, can't keep up with the announcements of closures and downgrades in recent times...

Well, KBC Bank made that decision easy for me.

As an Ulster Bank customer, and before that a Danske Bank one who is to be orphaned – again – I had pretty much decided I would move this time to the Belgian, KBC Bank.

That decision was helped along by a long, friendly email I received last February from their public relations company immediately after hearing me talk about the impending demise of Ulster Bank here in the Republic.

Like 1.9 million other customers, I had said I wasn’t looking forward to having to transfer to another bank – the third in five years.

“Just heard your segment on Drivetime RE Ulster Bank and thought that I might drop you a note, given what’s happening. I thought that it might also be useful to highlight KBC’s competitive offer in terms of current accounts and digital-first approach. While it is digital-first, it is not just digital. It still has that human touch for those who need it with hubs and contact centres…”

After listing all the advantages of having a KBC current account, about their advanced digital services (which even include a new investing platform), the bonus rates they offer customers for personal loans and how competitive their mortgage products are, I figured they might be a contender for my loss-making (to them) business: you see I don’t need to borrow any money anymore, my mortgage is paid off and I’d qualify for free banking by lodging the minimum required into the account every month.

But now that KBC Bank is also leaving the Irish market, my search continues…and my high street bank options are getting small - AIB, Bank of Ireland or Permanent TSB and, I think it fair to add, An Post’s Money current account which is both accessible on-line and from the branch network (to which Bank of Ireland is also now affiliated.)

(See www.anpost.com )

The An Post account, offers the standard direct debit/standing order facility; a credit and debit/ATM cards a handy prepaid zero cost Currency card with 16 currencies for travellers; savings wallets (into which you can also deposit money back-shopping rewards that are available with a limited number of retailers, but that include Lidl where I do much of my grocery shopping.)

At a flat €5 a month, the account is relatively cheap, but there is no ‘free banking pass’ like the €2,000 a month deposit to avoid charges as is the case at KBC. But it is completely transparent: pay the fiver and you can make as many ATM withdrawals, DDs and SO’s as you like. State Savings investments are also readily available via the Money account app.

As a credit intermediary of Avant Money, part of the Spanish Bankinter group, this Money account offers the cheapest personal loans up to €20,000 with APRs of between 4.9% and 12.9% depending on the term and amount you borrow.

A €20k loan over 10 years at 4.9% interest would cost €375.59 a month. Applications are made on-line or in person.

The website also lists a range of ‘branded’ loan types – for cars, holidays, weddings, home improvements, etc, even to refinance other debt. It has an appealing dedicated page to customers with a ‘Green’ agenda and want to buy an electric car or to do a home retrofit. You get taken through the step by step ‘Green’ borrowing process, including applying for an SEAI grant. A useful calculator works out exactly how much you will pay.

What this new state bank account doesn’t offer is interest on deposits or a mortgage facility (Avant Card only offer mortgages through select brokers), though it might by the time KBC and Ulster Bank have departed. Nor does it offer the range of extra tech features that the digital banks like Revolut and N26 offer or the personal lending relationship that the credit unions can provide, albeit at a much higher cost.

It’s been suggested that so significant are the changes in banking, not just here in Ireland but globally that everyone will be spreading out their banking needs in the future and we’ll all have one or two ‘day to day’ accounts, a separate mortgage lender and deposit keeper; one or all of them will also let you create a self-administered investment portfolio or pension.

There’s a lot to say for not giving a single institution all your business certainly not when it comes to investments, which should ideally be made with the assistance of trained, independent fee-based intermediaries.

The KBC departure announcement, like the Ulster Bank one, has come at a bad time for Ireland Inc, as we face a tough post pandemic economic future. As a smaller bank I expect it to be gone before Ulster Bank.

KBC customers may not want to procrastinate for too long.

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