Irish banks are failing Mac users

Users of Apple Macs are being treated as second-class customers when it comes to internet banking in Ireland…

Since the development of internet banking thousands of people have taken to managing their money from home.
And with branch closures becoming an increasingly common cost-cutting measure, Irish banks have been encouraging their customers to manage their accounts online too.

However, internet systems provided by some banks can only by accessed by Microsoft Windows users, excluding customers who use other operating systems or Apple Macs.

One of the four main Irish banks, Ulster Bank, is one such offender. It operates in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man with its subsidiary, First Active. Both are owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

While the bank says it’s aware of the problem, it has no clear plans to solve it.

"It's true that we don't support Macs and don't have specific plans to do so, but we work closely with the Royal Bank of Scotland, so that strategy could change in the future," says Ulster Bank spokesperson Caroline Douglas.

Mac user Matt Johnston who heads up the Irish Apple Macintosh support company, Mac-Sys, says bank customers who use Macs and face this attitude towards them should simply look elsewhere.

"I would be inclined to steer friends, family and customers away from banks who can afford to treat five per cent of the population as second class citizens,” he said.

“It's just another form of discrimination."

Johnston doesn't reserve his criticism for just Ulster Bank. He points out that while two other Irish banks do support Macs for personal banking, poor development of their online business banking systems means they are excluded yet again.

"The Bank of Ireland, which has a usable home banking section, has a business section which won't work on Macs. The same goes for First Trust," he added.

"Much of the reason is down to the fact their systems have been poorly built."

Both banks’ systems use Java - a technology that is intended to work across Mac and PC platforms alike - he explains. “But due to bad development, this doesn’t happen”.

The root cause of the problem is a mixture of arrogance and complacency by the banks, Johnston argues.

"Banks rely on us being loyal and lazy to provide poor service and hit us with extra charges. But changing banks is very easy, with competitors willing to handle all aspects of shifting across your existing account."

Ulster Bank's competitors, First Trust, and the Bank of Ireland do support Mac-users for personal banking, but Northern Bank, owned by the National Australia Bank, does not.

Ironically, the Royal Bank of Scotland does support the Macintosh, suggesting customers of its Irish subsidiaries with Macs receive a second-class service.

The official system requirements for Ulster Bank's online banking service, Ulster Bank Anytime, are: "An IBM-compatible PC with a 133Mhz Pentium processor, or higher, a VGA monitor," and crucially, "a Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT4, Windows 2000, Windows ME or Windows XP operating system."

Further requirements include Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser – although there is one alternative browser in the shape of the seven year-old Netscape 4.

Poor support isn't the only problem though. The Irish banking industry, particularly in Northern Ireland, is regularly criticised for failing to provide satisfactory service and overcharging customers.

A recent report by consumer watchdog Which? painted a poor picture of the personal banking market there.

The Which? report lead it to make its third complaint to the British Office of Fair Trading over the way Irish banks treat their customers.

Its report found Northern Irish banks "do not appear to function in the interests of the consumer, nor could it be described as a thriving, competitive market (dominated by four entrenched players).

"Add to this little evidence of entry by new players and a lack of transparency about charges and you have a market that leaves Northern Irish consumers with precious little choice and inferior products."