Bank of Ireland has reported a pre-tax profit of €835m for 2018 - that's down 2% year on year - while the bank cut costs by 3% during the year. 

However its operating income was down by more than 8% in the same period.

Despite that, its CEO Francesca McDonagh said she was pleased with the results.

"We have an increase in lending to our customers, particularly in the Irish economy, a reduction in our costs... to improve efficiency, an improvement in the quality of our lending book and from a returns perspective we've also increased profitability," she said.

As a result the bank opted to increase its dividend to 16 cent per share - up almost 40% on the amount issued a year ago. Ms McDonagh said this represented continued caution from the bank in regards its dividend policy.

"We have a prudent and progressive dividend policy, we're very comfortable with the dividends that we're reporting today," she said.


"The overall performance of the business has improved, our efficiency is increasing, the quality of our loanbook is improving and when we look at profitability we also look at returns on equity, and that has actually moved in the right direction - it's positive for 2018.

"More broadly what we're reporting today is progress against the strategy that we set out last year - which was to grow and transform the business. That is what we're doing," she added.

One of the things that does not feature as a cost for the bank in its 2018 figures is the tracker mortgage scandal - that burden fell in 2017 instead.

Ms McDonagh says that all but around 330 of its 14,500 cases have now been resolved - with the remainder being made up of customers that she says the bank cannot make contact with for some reason or another.

A different cost that was present in 2018 was around restructuring, however, as the bank's planned €1.4 billion spend on changes - including a major IT upgrade - began to materialise.

So far the bank has not set a figure on how many redundancies will result from these changes and Ms McDonagh said there is still no ultimate target in that regard.

"In 2018 we had a reduction of about 500 but at the same time we've continued to recruit talent, we invest in our people, we've promoted from within," she said. "And that reduction in people isn't in our frontline - what matters to customers is having good people in our branches and picking up calls in our contact centre."

That has seen the bank put an extra 200 people into its frontline services, she said, while they are also investing in their app to improve their online presence.

In the middle of last year Bank of Ireland set out a series of ambitious goals - including the aim of growing its loan book to €90 billion by 2021.

Another was to have new executive hires split 50/50 on a gender basis. Ms McDonagh says this is not something that can be done immediately, and will need time to achieve.

"The industry as a whole is really being challenged on that," she said. "It is a bit of a journey because we need the pipeline and the talent. There are many good female candidates now, and I was delighted to report progress that now 42% of senior hires at Bank of Ireland are female.

"We're very much on track to getting to the 50/50 target," she added.