Colm Doherty: 'aggressive cuts'

JOB cuts at AIB may be as high as 2,000 – or 20% of its Irish workforce – when they are announced later this year, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

The bank, which will this week report its biggest-ever loss, is expected to detail the extent of the job losses only after securing European Union approval for its re­structuring plan in September and getting the disposal of assets across the line, sources said.

The restructuring plan will chart the bank's course back to profitability and off of state aid. That will involve dramatic cuts to its cost base, which will affect most areas of the bank's Irish division and areas that supported its overseas operations.

One source told the Sunday Tribune that the cuts will be in the region of 1,500 to 2,000, though the eventual figure may creep higher.

AIB employed 24,681 people at the end of last year. AIB's Irish retail banking operation has 7,284 employees and its group centre, which supports the bank's various activities, employs 2,870 people. These are the areas most likely to be targeted for cuts, the source said.

The bank declined to comment last week, though it has made no secret of its intention to address its costs.

"It's clear to me that we are going to have to engage in relatively aggressive cost reductions," the bank's managing director Colm Doherty told analysts in March. He said the bank had already cut 1,600 jobs in the past 18 months.

Job losses in the banking sector are mounting up. Bank of Ireland last month said it was cutting 750 jobs through a voluntary redundancy scheme, while more than 1,000 people have left Ulster Bank. Anglo Irish Bank is reducing its workforce to 1,000, down from its peak of 1,850 in 2007.

AIB will announce the biggest loss in its history when it publishes first-half results on Wednesday. Analysts at NCB Stockbrokers forecast the bank may post a pre-tax loss of €3bn – double the figure of a year earlier – after taking writedowns on its loans going to Nama of €3bn.

NCB analyst Ciaran Call­aghan said non-Nama loan losses could reach €1.2bn.

The bank is scrambling to raise €7.4bn by the end of the year to boost its capital to the level set by the Financial Regulator in March.

AIB is selling its 70% stake in Poland's Bank Zachodni WBK, its 24% holding in US lender M&T Bank and its UK operations.

Four bidders have em­erged for Bank Zachodni and a deal to sell AIB's stake is expected in the coming weeks. A deal to sell its stockbroking division Goodbody to Kerry-based Fexco is understood to be edging closer.

Despite the asset sales, AIB is expected to end up with the state owning a majority of the bank. The government currently owns 18% of AIB.

Shares in the bank fell 4.3% last week to close at 94 cents. The shares have plunged 22% this year, giving AIB a market value of about €1bn.