Since the development of Internet banking thousands of people have taken to managing their money from home. With branch closures becoming an increasingly common cost-cutting measure, Irish banks have been encouraging users to get online – with Windows.
Ulster Bank, one of the four main Irish banks, does not support Apple computers, but they are far from alone in ignoring Macs.
Ulster Bank operates in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man. Its subsidiary First Active operates in the Republic of Ireland and the whole group is owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Matt Johnston of the Irish Apple Macintosh support company Mac-Sys was dissatisfied with the company's evasions: "I've not closed my accounts with any of the banks who don't support the Mac, for example the Ulster Bank. But I would be inclined to steer friends, family and customers away from Banks like that who can afford to treat five per cent of the population as second class citizens. It's just another form of discrimination," said Johnston.
Mac users run businesses, too
Johnston doesn't reserve his criticism for just the Irish RBS subsidiary and points out that while two Irish banks do support Macs for personal banking, online business banking is impossible: "The Bank of Ireland, which has a usable home banking section has a business section which won't work for Macs. Similarly First Trust. And a lot of them just use poorly coded Java." Java from Sun Microsystems is intended to be a cross-platform technology. "There's no good reason for it not to work other than poor choices of development team."
Johnston also runs the Northern Ireland Macintosh user group and encourages Mac-users to ditch the unresponsive banks: "In my experience, it's best to change banks. Banks rely on us being loyal and lazy to provide poor service and hit us with extra charges. I don't put up with it – they have to remember that we are the customers! We pay their salaries! Changing banks is very easy. Last time we did it, they handled the movement of direct debits and everything."
Ulster Bank spokesperson Caroline Douglas said the situation could change: "It's true that we don't support Macs and don't have specific plans to do so, but we work quite closely with the Royal Bank of Scotland, so that strategy could change in the future."
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, do not.
Ironically, the Royal Bank of Scotland does support the Macintosh suggesting that Irish Mac users 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, as the only version of Netscape supported is 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 customer service and overcharging.
Which? critical of Irish bankers
Last month Which? – formerly the Consumers' Association – lodged a complaint with the British government over the way the personal banking market operates in Northern Ireland. The complaint, directed all four Irish banks, is the third "super-complaint" by Which? to the Office of Fair Trading. Average fees on a £500 overdraft in Britain are £11 annually while in Northern Ireland the average is £236, claimed the consumer watchdog.
The Which? report goes on, Northern Irish banks "do not appear to function in the interests of the consumer, nor could it be described as a thriving, competitive market - there is a worrying similarity of both the structure and amount of Northern Irish bank charges. Add to this a market that is dominated by four entrenched players, 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. Which? believes these characteristics lead to a market that does not work for consumers."
Jason Walsh is a freelance journalist, based in Ireland. He writes across multiple topics for multiple titles. For more examples of Walsh's work, visit his website.