In December 2013, Ireland became the first Eurozone country to successfully exit an EU / IMF support programme. After three years, public finances had met fiscal targets set by the ‘troika’ who had taken control of the economy. The general government deficit fell under target and would continue to do so in 2014 and 2015.
A pivotal part of this recovery was the input of the banks. Bailed out by taxpayers, several Irish banks owed the country a fortune. Bank of Ireland was the first to repay Irish taxpayers’ investment, returning c.€6billion to the State versus original investments of €4.8 billion.
Recovery was evident in the improvement in the labour market where numbers employed increased, and unemployment fell sharply during the year from 14% to 12.1%. Residential property prices rose 6.4% in 2013, the first increase since 2007. And for the first time since 2007, domestic demand contributed to economic growth.
This recovery was one which was hard won by the people of Ireland. Hard won through successive years of ‘austerity’ budgets, featuring spending cuts on public services and social welfare supports, and increased taxes. Irish people were not necessarily feeling any recovery.
People carried a sense of outrage towards those associated with the recession in the first place. And high on this list were banks and bankers (outranked only by government itself). Banks were considered instrumental in the creation of an overheated economy through unfettered lending practices, in particular into property. Further, banks had themselves created a debt significant enough to affect successive generations through the bailout facilitated by their partners in the public enemy listings – government.
These were the competing dynamics into which this campaign for Bank of Ireland was launched. On the one hand, an economy prime for a newly-recovered bank to build business, in particular through mortgage lending. Mortgages are highly profitable for banks and in 2013 there was significant pent-up demand in the market. On the other hand, the brand was starting from a position of hugely negative associations and record levels of mistrust.
An intriguing time in which to launch.
.CSO Seasonally Adjusted Standardised Unemployment Rates