I am delighted to have the opportunity to meet the Chairman and other members of the committee today. Perhaps it would help the committee if I introduced myself briefly. I was born and grew up in County Down in Northern Ireland. I joined Ulster Bank in 1982, working in Belfast and, for many years, here in Dublin. My most recent role was as head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland and managing director of SME banking across the island of Ireland. Prior to that, I was chief operating officer for Ulster Bank Group, again on an all-island basis. In those roles, I came to know the bank's customers and stakeholders. This included engagement with many public representatives here in Leinster House and in Stormont on issues affecting their constituents. Prior to that, I was in charge of RBS operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This involved responsibility for more than 3,000 staff and servicing retail and commercial banking customers from a range of locations abroad. My other current activities include chairmanship of the Economic Advisory Group in Northern Ireland. I am also a board member of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a member of the advisory board of the Women's Executive Network in Ireland. These roles provide a really helpful perspective on wider policy and community issues both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.
I do not want to burden the committee with too much biographical detail but it may be helpful if I say that my career to date as an executive and non-executive has taught me the value of sound business judgment, leadership, customer focus, pragmatism, ability to influence people and tenacity. As someone who has lived and worked in Dublin and Belfast, I know at first hand the importance of business relationships between the North and South. These business links have played a key role in the progress we have made in recent years. I am very proud of the contribution women make to business and I am delighted to be the first woman nominated to chair the ESB.
As chairman designate, I am very conscious of the great history of the ESB. It was established as a commercial State company at the very beginning of the State to be a key enabler of the economic development of the country. Electricity remains vital for economic development and the ESB continues to play a crucial role in the national economy. I am mindful of being responsible not only to the Government, as owner, but also to those industries, businesses, hospitals, schools, homes and all those who rely on the ESB for a safe and secure supply of electricity. My appointment is an honour and it is also a challenge that I very much welcome.
As a serving board member, I have come to see the scale and complexity of the ESB's business. The ESB is a major employer, with 7,200 staff, €13 billion in assets and €3 billion in annual revenues, and it contributes more than €2 billion annually to the Irish economy. The ESB has a presence in every county and townland in the country. The ESB Networks business serves more than 2 million customers. There has been major investment in the networks to deliver the infrastructure critical to a modern economy. As the members all appreciate, there is great commitment from staff to maintaining a safe and secure energy supply in all weathers.
The ESB's generation and supply businesses have undergone major transformations over the past decade, from being monopolies to operating in an open and competitive marketplace. We can all see that ESB International brings Irish engineering expertise to serve the needs of clients right across the globe. The ESB is a large-scale business, investing up to €1 billion each year. Some €500 million to €600 million of this is spent upgrading Ireland's electricity network. The ESB invests hundreds of millions of euro each year in its generation, supply and innovation businesses. To finance these investments, the ESB has to be a financially strong and profitable business.
It has to raise debt in the international financial markets. Current debt stands at €5 billion. I am aware of the scale of this investment challenge and of the role of the board in maintaining a financially strong ESB for the benefit of all of us.
On looking forward, the first thing I would say about my vision for the future is that it is a very exciting time for the energy industry. We are all working to address the challenges of climate change and to decarbonise our economies. This is giving rise to a huge focus on renewables, the development of clean energy technologies and the efficient use of energy. EU and national policies are driving these efforts and the ESB will continue to play a leading national role. These developments are changing not only the way we generate electricity but also the way we supply it to customers. Smart technologies are already improving the efficiency and operation of the electricity networks. All of this progress will place the customers much more in control of when and how they use electricity. It will also enhance the whole customer experience and engagement in our own homes.
It is a really interesting time to be on the ESB board. As chairman designate I look forward to the challenge of developing and supporting the ESB's innovation strategy. The key strategic challenges I see for the ESB are supporting public policy in delivering an affordable, secure and sustainable electricity service; meeting the challenges of the all-island and all-islands electricity market, particularly the competition we now face in our traditional home market, including from the big UK utilities; delivering a high-quality, cost-efficient electricity network; disruption in our industry from emerging technologies; maintaining the financial strength of ESB; and attracting and retaining the high-calibre people critical for the success of the company into the future.
It is clear to me that the ESB board is committed to the highest standards of corporate governance. This reflects both the heritage of the organisation and also the commitment of board colleagues. As a board, we are never complacent, and that will continue to be my focus as chairman. I place particular emphasis as chairman on the board's oversight responsibility for strategy and governance, oversight of internal controls and oversight of risk. In doing this, I see the board as supporting and challenging management, who have the operational responsibility for the business. I appreciate the trust that is being placed in me and I am determined to live up to that trust.
As chairman designate of the board of the ESB, I look forward to playing my part in ensuring that the ESB remains a vital facilitator of the economic and social development of Ireland.
I acknowledge the proud history of the ESB since it was established by the members' predecessors in 1927. I recognise the very distinguished chairmen of the past, including most recently Lochlann Quinn. My focus as chairman would be to ensure that Ireland and all of our customers continue to have a safe, secure, sustainable and affordable electricity service. That is the brief for the role and that is what I would be honoured to do. I will take any questions.