The chief executive of AIB has moved to reassure politicians that the bank is not taking over Goodbody stockbrokers as a means of circumventing government pay restrictions on bankers.
In an opening statement provided to members of the Oireachtas Finance Committee at the start of his appearance before it today, Colin Hunt said nothing could be further from the truth.
"The remuneration arrangements at Goodbody are entirely separate and ring-fenced from those at AIB and the government restrictions on pay remain fully intact at the bank," Mr Hunt said in the statement.
"In order to streamline and avoid duplication, a very small group of employees from the bank will transfer to Goodbody."
"None of these can receive remuneration that exceeds the government pay cap. In addition, apart from this group, Goodbody will not be permitted to hire anybody who has worked for AIB in the course of the previous two years."
Under questioning from Sinn Fein's finance spokesman Pearse Doherty, Mr Hunt told the committee he has no expectation that the Government's pay restrictions on the banking sector will change in the near term.
He said the Government's restrictions on AIB after the Goodbody deal is completed will remain in place and a feature of remuneration arrangements in the bank, with no return to variable pay in the absence of an agreement in advance from the state.
"It is not anywhere near the top of my agenda, it isn't on the first page of my agenda items as CEO at this point in time," Mr Hunt said.
He added that the remuneration arrangements in Goodbody are different to those in AIB and variable pay is a feature of the industry within which the stockbroking firm competes.
"I would not have wanted to acquire the business in the absence of us having the ability to continue with the pre-existing remuneration arrangements within Goodbody, because if I wasn't able to continue with them I would have run the risk of that business being significantly damaged by an outflow of talent and an outflow of staff members from it," he claimed.
Last week the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission cleared AIB's proposed €138m purchase of the stockbroker.
The bank also recently announced a joint venture with Great-West LifeCo to boost its life, pensions and savings offering.
Earlier this week it also inked a deal to purchase Ulster Bank’s €4bn performing corporate and commercial loan portfolio, with the movement of 280 staff from Ulster Bank to AIB.
Mr Hunt said he personally regrets the decision by Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland to exit the Irish market as it is bad for the industry.
But he said competition comes in multiple forms now, including fintech and other international players and it remains a very competitive environment.
Questioned by Fine Gael's Bernard Durkan, as to whether he was aware of plans by any other banks to offer products and services here, Mr Hunt said he not aware of any speculation about any traditional full service banks headquartered outside the state looking to enter the Irish market.
Mr Hunt said that the bank is confident its return to profitability recorded in the first quarter of the year will continue, "as the wider population is vaccinated and the economy returns to solid growth."
In relation to the tracker mortgage examination, Mr Hunt said the bank continues to have a €70m provision in its books for a potential fine from the Central Bank.
"That is a provision, we don't know what the actual fine is going to be and we have to arrive at a decision everytime we produce a set of accounts as to whether it is appropriate or not," he said.
Asked by Mr Doherty as to whether gardai have been in touch with the bank over the tracker mortgage issue, Mr Hunt added that they have not been.
The bank boss also told the committee that branch transactions have fallen 57% to 39,500, but daily interaction with the AIB mobile app have risen to 2.3m as a result of an accelerated shift in customer behaviour due to the pandemic.
"Banking is evolving but be assured that AIB will maintain its very strong branch presence throughout the country, continuing our personal and business customer relationships in the local community while increasing sales and advisory services," Mr Hunt said.
"We have recently amalgamated five branches in Dublin, Cork and Galway that were in close proximity to each other and plan to further review a small number of locations in mainly urban areas where overlaps occur."
Mr Hunt said the bank continues to keep its branch footprint in Northern Ireland under review but has no announcement to make on it at this time and added that AIB is committed to maintaining a full service offering in the north.
Regarding the future of the state's shareholding in AIB, Mr Hunt said the Government has stated it does not have a long term interest in being a shareholder in the bank, but he has no influence over any timing the Government might or might not make on reducing that shareholding.
He added that if the Government decides to reduce its shareholding he suspects it will happen over time and in a number of tranches.
Mr Hunt added that of the almost 80,000 payment breaks provided to customers in the early part of the pandemic, nearly 90% have returned to full repayment of principal and interest.
On housing, the CEO said AIB is about to launch an additional €500m social housing fund, leading to a build of more than 3,000 homes.
It follows the full allocation of a €300m social housing fund last year to deliver more than 2,000 new units.