Meet the CEO: Des Crowley – Bank of Ireland (UK)

Financial Services | Growth | Interview | Interviews
Des Crowley

With the rapid rise of technology, the after effects of GDPR fresh in the minds of business leaders and with Brexit on the horizon – the banking sector is going through a transformational era.

Challenger banks and regulatory changes have set the industry alight with revolutionary ideas and major changes.

Business Leader Magazine recently spoke to Des Crowley, CEO of Bank of Ireland UK about how they are setting themselves apart from the competition and are positioning themselves as the ‘partnership bank’.

Des shares his views on open banking, growing tech trends and how regulatory changes have affected his bank and the sector as a whole.

How did your career at the Bank of Ireland begin?

I was headhunted to run the Bank’s IT division in 1988. I am not very good at IT at all but I did a deal on the way into the company – I agreed to do the IT job for three years, but after that I wanted to run a business. Three years to the day after they employed me, I was appointed to run the credit card division of the bank – and I have been running businesses ever since.

How would you describe the bank’s growth?

The Bank of Ireland had to seek a banking license during the economic crisis in 2009. Effectively, we started a new bank called ‘Bank of Ireland UK’ in 2010 – we now have a balance sheet of £23 billion and about 2.2 million customers. We are trading mainly in consumer markets such as deposits, mortgages, pre-paid debit cards, foreign exchange, and personal credit cards.

How do you view Bank or Ireland’s role in the banking sector?

Frankly, we cannot compete head on with the big six banks. We also don’t want to be characterised in the same way as the other challenger and mid-tier banks. We want to have a distinctive position and that is why people knock on my door quite regularly that are good brands. We are the partnership bank and we focus on providing better financial services through partners’ brands. Our main focus at the moment is making sure our main partnerships work well and then we will look to build new partnerships.

What are the main challenges in the banking sector?

One of the important things to do is recognise that we are competing in a very competitive market. The uncertainty in the market surrounding Brexit, the level of competition, and this new initiative called ‘Open Banking’, which is becoming quite pervasive. The biggest challenge comes from GAFA – Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. We are no longer just competing with banks.

What is open banking and what are your opinions on it?

Open banking will allow people to share their data across multiple suppliers and allow non-banks to say to customers that they could get a better value proposition than from the Bank of Ireland. Most of us have banked with our current bank for a long time. Open banking will be prompting customers to say that they could get a better deal elsewhere. It is taking the aggregator model we have seen in financial services and further personalising banking.

What are your opinions about ‘GAFA’ moving into the banking sector?

I think that it is good for consumers and very challenging for the incumbents, and I include ourselves in that. We are heavily regulated by the regulatory authorities. We have to hold a lot of capital. At the moment, the likes of Google and Amazon are not regulated and do not have to hold capital.

What are your thoughts on the rise of AI and tech within the banking sector?

It is an inevitable trend. At the Bank of Ireland we are using robotics which are helping us to give a much more efficient service to customers. We have 40 people working in robotics centres out of 11,000 people in our bank. As we move forward with technology and use things like AI and analytics, we just have to be careful. Customers want to be engaged with on their terms. They want to be offered the deals they want to be offered – the problem is that for every 10 solicitations that I get offered from travel websites, airlines, Amazon etc – only one might strike me as relevant and the other nine drive me crazy! We do not want to overburden the consumer, just because we have the tech available to us.

Has GDPR affected the banking sector?

It has affected our customers, banking and our partners. My anticipation is that after the 25th May we will be a long way to being compliant with GDPR legislation – but in every single sector and every single company there are going to be people putting in manual controls to make sure that they are compliant.

What makes Bank of Ireland UK ‘the partnership bank’?

In the UK market, there are six very large banks that dominate the whole banking scene. Effectively, around 80% of what goes on in retail banking in Great Britain is done by those top six. We were looking for a very distinctive position and decided that we did not want to trade in the UK under the ‘Bank of Ireland’ brand but we wanted to work through trusted brands within the marketplace. That is part of our legacy. We started our relationship with the Post Office over 20 years ago and they were our first big partner. Then we took on The AA. We also have car dealership and intermediary mortgage partnerships – we have a wide range of establishments who partner with us. We established over two years ago that we wanted to be the ‘partnership bank’ – we trade through the market with trusted brands. We then build trust through those partners and give great value to their customers.

What was the motivation behind the ‘Inspiring Partnerships’ video series?

We worked with the philosophers at The School of Life to explore the concept of ‘partnerships’ in a series of intriguing and thought-provoking videos. Together, we learnt that successful partnerships share a common purpose, have trust and mutual respect for each other, bring skills to the partnership which are complementary, and are able to solve problems and communicate well with each other. Each Inspiring Partnership video is unique – but at their heart they show the true power of partnership, and how it can make a real difference to people’s’ lives.

To watch the Inspiring Partnerships videos, visit this page:

To see the Bank of Ireland’s annual results, visit this page:

Did you enjoy reading this content?  To get more great content like this subscribe to our magazine

Reader's Comments

Comments related to the current article

Join the conversation


  1. Very interesting article and all of the key traits for success; collaboration, demonstrable proof partnership, CEO, Francesca Mc Donaghs message on rebuilding trust being reinforced by Pat. A new acronym for me too #GAFA 👍🏻

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *