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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The thorny issue for NatWest’s Alison Rose

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S

ome words from today’s statement to the stock market from NatWest: “Our purpose in action…People and families…Colleagues. Communities. Thrive together…Building a culture to champion potential.”

Hang on, isn’t this a bank? A heartless organisation devoted to repossessing family farms, charging 30% interest on credit cards and being beastly whenever opportunity knocks?

Well, it is still that in parts, but CEO Alison Rose is sincere about wanting the new NatWest to be different.

The bind she is in is that in order to get to where she is going, she still needs some killers, some guys with creases in their shirts and in their souls.

So she is paying out nearly £300 million in bonuses, not just to the cufflink crew, but mostly to them.

For an organisation still 52% owned by the taxpayer, that jars somewhat.

But it has got to be done. We’ll cringe and live with it.

The question remains – what should the government do with its majority stake?

The wish of Rose and the Conservative Party is the same – sell and get out.

The thing is, that is exactly what NatWest’s competitors want too. Barclays, Lloyds and the “challenger” banks like Virgin Money and Starling and the rest, also think the government should sell its stake. They do not want to compete with a taxpayer backed lender.

That already sounds like a great reason to sit tight.

Nationwide Building Society is a brilliant organisation because it is a permanent challenge to the idea of stock market listed banks.

NatWest could be similar. That just requires someone to take a long-term view, to think in terms of decades rather than quarterly returns. We don’t do that in this country. It is a terrible shame.

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