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Gary McDonald Business Editor

SOME Ulster Bank business customers in Northern Ireland face being locked out of their accounts from the end of this week unless they complete what one company owner described as an “unwieldy and unnecessary” online process updating their details.

The bank wrote to customers in April asking them for up-to-date information about their business accounts.

It says it needs to make sure it holds accurate information about their business, including details on people who have significant control over it.

The bank insists it is complying with regulatory obligations, and the process forms a key part of it ability to detect and fight fraudulent transactions, money laundering and tax evasion.

And it warned that if it doesn’t receive this information online by May 13 “we will need to restrict access to your accounts which means (but is not limited to) you won’t be able to deposit, withdraw or transfer funds and we won’t be able to process any standing orders”.

But one businessman who contacted the Irish News insisting the process is “needless and unnecessary” as Ulster Bank, with whom he has had a years-long association, held all his information already.

And he claimed: “The online process is cumbersome and desperately time-consuming, and once you get you far, you must submit personal details to a third party, which I’m not prepared to do.”

The director, whose long-established North Down business employs more than a dozen staff, said that, having abandoned the online process halfway through, he was then phoned by Ulster Bank.

“The lady said it was her job to phone around customers and try to help them.

“She told me I was the only one who’d actually even got that far, which to me suggests that nobody is even trying to go through that laborious and unwieldy process on the portal.”

He added: “Ulster Bank already has all the details of my business, me personally, and my fellow director.

“Yet here I am, being asked to provide photographic ID and send in utility bills to verify my address. It’s needless in my view.

“And it won’t cost me a second thought to take my business elsewhere, which is a view I’m sure others in a similar position will share.”

A spokesperson for Ulster Bank told the Irish News: “In order to comply with our regulatory requirements, we are writing to most of our business customers to ensure that we hold up to date information for them and their business.

“We’re doing this to help prevent fraud and financial crime. In the instance where a customer doesn’t respond to multiple attempts to verify this information, we may restrict access to certain account services.

“We encourage customers to respond to any correspondence as soon as possible so we can continue to meet their banking needs.”

The enhanced safety checks come as part of the Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) process led by trade association UK Finance.

Jana Mackintosh, managing director of payments and innovation at UK Finance said: “Fraud is a growing problem, with criminals stealing more than £750 million in the first half of 2021 alone. That is why it is more important than ever that additional protections like Strong Customer Authentication are put in place.

“For retailers, implementing SCA will provide customers peace of mind that payment processes are more secure.

“The industry and stakeholders have worked tirelessly to get ready for this change and we encourage any retailers who have not yet implemented SCA to act as soon as possible to ensure the new protections are available to all.”

The original deadline for SCA was March 2021 but the FCA agreed to a delay March 2022 due to Covid-19, and it has stated that there will be no further extensions to this deadline.

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