Ulster Bank has made a provision for another non-performing loan sale this year. 

The bank completed a sale of a portfolio of non-performing loans last year, reducing its NPL ratio to 11.3%. The ratio is still quite high, and the bank needs to reduce it further.

Ulster Bank chief executive Jane Howard said the bank has made a provision for another sale, but she would not be drawn on the size or value of the portfolio.

"There will be plans but our priority is to see how we can help as many customers as possible, and there will be customers that we are unable to help," she said.

Ms Howard said the focus is on contacting all customers who are in arrears to see how the bank can help.


 "Our message would be to anyone who is listening out there, if you are in arrears, we do know how stressful that is, so please call us. We have got people ready to listen. We understand everybody's circumstances are different, and we are here to see how we can get customers on a sustainable mortgage," she said.

Earlier this month, the Central Bank reported that there had been a rise in the number of mortgage holders who were affected by the tracker controversy.

Ms Howard said Ulster Bank identified just under 5,500 affected customers. "We let our customers down on this, and it is important that we fix it as quickly as we can," she said.

"We have completed about 90% by the end of last year, so we are now dealing with the last 500. These are our most complex cases. It's important that we get it right for our customers and we expect to be complete by the end of April."

Ulster Bank is to introduce transaction charges for operating current accounts. It will impose a 20 cent charge on electronic payments into and out of account using online, and mobile banking, and there is a 1 cent charge to use contactless payments.

The CEO said the bank is not trying to discourage people from banking digitally, but is providing customers with choice. 

"Our customers have said they want us to be fairer and more transparent on things like charges, so we've halved the monthly fee and we've introduced transaction charges, so that customers have got choice. It's about choice and the charges are there to reflect that," she said. 

Analysts at stockbroker Davy said this week that a merger between Ulster Bank and Permanent TSB would boost the combined weak profitability of the two lenders by almost 50%.

Ms Howard said there are no such plans for a merger. She said she was appointed the CEO of Ulster Bank last year which she described as an absolute privilege. 

"I have no mandate to merge with PTSB or any other bank," she said. "We have a strategy. It's a strategy around organic growth, and wanting to build a safe, sustainable bank, particularly a bank that focuses on what matters to our customers."

Ulster Bank today reported a modest profit of €15m in its full year results for 2018, which is a marked improvement on the operating loss of €151m the previous year. 

On the revenue side, new mortgage lending was up 13%, deposits are up 5%. On the cost side, operating expenses are down by 15%. 

"We are moving in the right direction, and that direction is to build a stronger, safer and sustainable bank and a bank that really focuses on what matters to our customers, so I am very encouraged by the results," Ms Howard said.