The ghosts of economic crises past continued to haunt Ireland’s banks this year – all while they juggled with the implications of a new one.

The tracker mortgage scandal continued to trundle towards a conclusion in 2020, with some banks starting the year by setting aside more money to deal with inevitable fines from the Central Bank.

And those fines would continue to come in – though not before another significant challenge hit the sector.

With the Government locking down the country in March, many jobs effectively ceased to exist – albeit temporarily – raising the spectre of fresh mortgage arrears building, even while many of those from the financial crisis remained.

In order to avoid that, banks agreed to make loan payment breaks available to customers – giving them the option of pausing their mortgage without it impacting their credit worthiness.

At first the breaks were for three months – reflecting perhaps the feeling at the time that Covid-19 would be no more than a short-term irritation. That was later extended to six months, but banks resisted calls to go even further – saying, instead, that they would deal with the need for further leeway on a case-by-case basis.

At the same time banks set aside millions to prepare for a downturn in new loan applications, as well as any potential souring in existing lending.

They were also forced to grapple with a rapidly changing market, with the sudden shift towards card and contactless payments, as well as online spending, having significant implications for lenders here.

The future of the bank branch also came into focus once again, with some opting to reduce their physical footprint further.

Others announced cut-backs of their own, though they assured customers that the changes were largely being made behind the scenes, with customer-facing operations mostly remaining unchanged.

But perhaps the most significant trend to gather pace in 2020 was the adoption of digital alternatives like Revolut and N26, which offered customers an easier way to manage their money.

Revolut passed the one million user threshold in Ireland earlier this year and while it does not yet offer a full suite of products, including loans, traditional banks are sure to be concerned at the fact that more and more of people’s walking around money – and day-to-day spend – is going through its coffers rather than theirs.

But as limited as these digital offerings currently are, it can only be good news for Irish consumers to have as many banking options as possible available to them.

That will include KBC Bank, after the Dutch lender decided to stick with the Irish market following a review.

It is not yet clear, however, whether the future of Irish banking will also include Ulster Bank – as its parent company NatWest continues to review it plans for its Republic of Ireland business.