Northern Ireland

Bank inquiry: Regulator says IT systems 'antiquated'

Bank of England Image copyright PA
Image caption Bank of England regulators have been giving evidence to the inquiry into Northern Ireland's banking system

A regulator from the Bank of England has told the inquiry into Northern Ireland's banking system that he is a "very long way" from being able to say that UK banks have robust IT systems.

Sam Woods, a director in the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster.

Mr Woods was asked about the major IT failure at RBS/Ulster Bank in 2012.

The failure had a disproportionate impact on Northern Ireland customers.

Mr Woods said that an enforcement investigation into the failure was continuing.

His predecessor organisation, the Financial Services Authority, had also ordered a detailed inquiry into the IT problems known as a Section 166 report.

However, this is unlikely to be published as it is "full of commercial information".

Following the RBS/Ulster problems the PRA asked the UK's other major banks to check if they could face similar issues.

Mr Woods said this had revealed "a number of deficiencies" and remedial action was under way.

He added that RBS's remedial efforts, known as Program Atlas, may have helped prevent an escalation in a further IT problem that occurred at the end of 2013.

He said that progress was being made across the industry but the main problem is that the IT systems were "so antiquated".

He told the committee: "I feel we are a very long away from being able to sit here with confidence and say that the UK banks' IT systems are robust."

Another Bank of England regulator, Martin Stewart, told the committee that in his opinion the credit union sector in Northern Ireland could be strengthened by mergers.

Northern Ireland has more than 170 credit unions and Mr Stewart said a smaller number of financially stronger unions could potentially lend more.

The banking inquiry is looking at the way banks are run, how they provide finance to small and medium sized businesses and access to banking in rural communities.

Senior bankers are due to give evidence later this month.

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