A NatWest Group spokesperson said today that no talks are taking place with Cerberus over the possibility of the US investment bank buying Ulster Bank's €20.5 billion loan book.

An earlier report in the Irish Times today said that Cerberus was considering an approach for the Ulster Bank loan book. Cerberus was a major buyer of Irish distressed debt after the financial crisis.

"There are no talks taking place with Cerberus," a spokesperson for NatWest, which owns Ulster Bank, said today.

The Financial Services Union described the report as "gravely concerning".

Padraic Kissane, the consumer representative on the Irish Banking Culture Board, also said he was concerned, especially with the anxiety the issue is causing to customers and staff.

He said he was also concerned about how it will affect the competition position within banking in Ireland.

"I believe there needs to be a statement of clarity issued sooner rather than later to address this vacuum in terms of information," Mr Kissan said. 

"The consequences of closure, should it occur, will have wide reaching effects on many sectors but most especially businesses, small and large who hold a banking relationship with Ulster Bank. The current uncertainty helps no one including Ulster Bank," he added. 

Last month, NatWest said its strategy to grow the bank's business in Ireland organically and safely remains unchanged but is under review.

Responding to reports that it was considering winding down Ulster Bank's operations here, NatWest said it continues to evaluate the impact of Covid-19 and the challenges to the economy. 

The London-based group said as a result, it is reviewing its strategy appropriately and responsibly in light of these events. 

"In the event of any changes being made to our strategy, these would be undertaken with full consideration of any impact on customers, colleagues and shareholders in the first instance," it said in a statement.

"Our priority now is to continue to remain focused on supporting our customers and colleagues in these difficult times," it added.

Ulster Bank's chief executive conveyed a similar message to staff last month. "It's important to emphasis to your colleagues and to customers that we have seen commentary like this before and this, like previous stories, is also speculative," Jane Howard said.

"I know that it can be distracting but I would ask that you please stay focused on serving our customers well," she added.