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Phoning it in

Central Bank calls on Irish banks to improve customer support waiting times

it conducted a review of the five main retail banks.

THE CENTRAL BANK has criticised Irish retail banks over their customer support phone lines and called for improvements to be made. 

Following a review of calls between banks and their customers, it found that wait times are excessive with a high number of callers abandoning the call before seeing their issue resolved. 

The review sought customer support phone line data from the five main retail banks – AIB Bank, Bank of Ireland, KBCI, PTSB and Ulster Bank Ireland DAC – and included a look at daily call volumes and average wait times.

The Central Bank has said more needs to be done by the retail banks to resource their phone lines, especially as it is anticipated that there will be an increase in demand for customer services over the coming months.

This is due to the number of customers who will have to switch banking services following the decision by KBC Bank Ireland and Ulster Bank to withdraw from the market.

The review by the Central Bank of Ireland has highlighted areas for improvement, following an assessment of call wait times, call abandonment rates and resourcing levels across the retail banks.

It found that the average call wait times on some customer support phone lines were excessive and exceeded the internal service level agreements of the banks concerned.

“The longest call wait times in some of the retail banks was unacceptably high, with customers waiting over two hours in some cases,” it said in a statement released today.

“Resourcing levels varied considerably across the retail banks and it is clear in some cases that resourcing for customer support phone lines was insufficient.”

One phone line had an abandonment rate over 50% meanwhile. 

Following direct engagement, retail banks have provided details of measures they are taking to address the issues highlighted by the review, including increased capacity and staffing levels.

A Central Bank spokesperson added: “The review follows a letter from the Central Bank to the retail banks in June 2021 setting out our consumer protection expectations during this time of unprecedented change in the retail banking sector in Ireland. 

“The letter outlined a series of supervisory expectations, including that the retail banks take proactive action to manage customer service operations and resources to meet both current levels of engagement and anticipated growth in demand for services.”

Director of Consumer Protection, Colm Kincaid, said: “Given the importance of banking to our day to day lives, when we pick up the phone to a bank we need to get a prompt response and a good service.

“From our own review and the clear concerns expressed on social and other media it is clear that banks need to improve their performance in this area, so we have intervened to require this improvement to take place.”

Kincaid added that it is the responsibility of banks to ensure they have sufficient resources in place, including meeting demand from both existing and new customers.

Reacting to the appeal, representative group the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland said 2021 had been an exceptional year due to the pandemic. 

Chief Executive, Brian Hayes said: “Banks experienced absences of up to 25% on certain days, reallocating staff to customer facing teams and branches to minimise disruption.

“Thousands of contact centre staff in the five retail banks worked on-site to provide essential service at every stage of the pandemic, managing over 10 million calls in 2021.”

In relation to the expected surge in customer needs due to the exit of two retail banks, Hayes said the transition will be an “unprecedented event” in the history of Irish banking, as over one million customers will switch accounts.

“It will require the participation and support of multiple stakeholders across the economy, including the banking industry, regulatory authorities, utility companies, Government Departments and agencies, and employers working together.”

“This enormous task is an absolute priority for the banking sector, its customers and its stakeholders and will remain the number one issue at all levels of our operations this year,” he said. 

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