Pat Kenny told the following story on Today with Pat Kenny (Wed. 12th May).
I was talking to a former banker last night, he’s out of banking now years and years, and he told me that when he worked for a particular bank before it became part of AIB it was common throughout all banks; to rob the customers regularly.
Now how did they do it? Well they rounded up what the customer owed and they rounded down what they owed the customer, so they were always at it.
Common throughout all banks to rob customers regularly – It’s not often we hear such a candid admission of criminality by a banker, even a retired banker.
We now know, of course, that widespread and systematic theft was, and probably still is, a common and fully accepted business option within the Irish financial sector.
I suspect that I was a victim of this Irish ‘tradition’ when, on 16th June 1992, a mysterious interest charge of £2.03 appeared on my current account.
When I rang the bank and politely asked for an explanation I was curtly told to put my request in writing, the official ended the conversation by sternly warning me to make sure the letter was properly signed.
Remember, this was a time when banks lorded it over the peasantry, before their criminality was exposed.
When the ‘put it in writing’ tactic failed the bank paid back the £2.03 to my account with the usual meaningless apology.
But I wasn’t happy, my suspicions were raised and I wanted to know why the deduction was made in the first place.
Over the following five months I engaged in psychological warfare with the bank by way of letters, phone calls and personal visits to the bank until eventually, in October 1992, the bank admitted that an error had occurred in their Electronic Money Transmission System.
The admission of error by the bank was important to me because up to that point they insisted that I was somehow at fault or an error had been made by my then employer (Dept. of Defence, Navy).
I have no doubt that my persistence wore them down but I found the whole experience very difficult especially when I made personal visits to the bank.
As I queued in line I could see the ‘Jesus, here comes the crank again’ look on the bank officials faces.
Before each visit I had to mentally psyche myself up, I had to mentally convince myself that I was in the right, that I was entitled to an answer to my simple question.
It had also occurred to me that AIB could be engaged in the systematic theft of small amounts of money from a large number of customers which accumulatively could amount to a significant sum of money every month.
We now know that this widespread theft was in fact going on but when I contacted every political party, the Dept. of Finance and the Central Bank to express my suspicions I was, without exception, patronisingly advised to switch my account to another bank.
In my innocence I was completely unaware that the main political parties and the so called regulatory authorities were fully aware of, and tolerated, such criminality within the banking sector.
In 1998, George Lee and Charlie Bird published their book ‘Breaking the Bank’ which detailed widespread theft and fraud by National Irish Bank.
I smiled when I read how bank staff went out of their way to target the accounts of ‘demanding or troublesome’ customers for special treatment.
Depressingly, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that large scale theft and fraud within the Irish financial sector is a thing of the past.
Despite the appointment of Matthew Elderfield as Financial Regulator there has been no change in the culture of secrecy that facilitates such criminality.
Neither is there any sign of the political leadership necessary to bring the thieves to heel.