RBS paves the way for Williams & Glyn sale

The Times Katherine Griffiths Banking Editor

Published at 12:01AM, June 26 2015

There is speculation that RBS will not have W&G ready in time Dominic Lipinski/PA

Royal Bank of Scotland is beefing up the management team of the bank it is trying to spin off before a late 2016 deadline.

The appointment of Leigh Bartlett, whose career spans banks around the world, as chief financial officer, underlines the focus on completing the task of separating Williams & Glyn in order to avoid restrictions that may be placed on RBS if it fails to hit the target.

Ross McEwan, RBS’s chief executive, said this week that senior management were working hard to float the challenger bank by the end of next year, but he emphasised that the task ahead was still formidable.

The move comes amid speculation that RBS will not have W&G ready in time, forcing the government to appeal for an extension from Brussels, which imposed the sale as a condition for the bank’s £45.5 billion bailout during the financial crisis.

Mr Bartlett will join RBS in September from Westpac in New Zealand, where he has spent four years as chief financial officer. He had previously held banking and corporate finance positions at RBS, Alliance & Leicester, PwC and KPMG.

He will work for Jim Brown, who is being parachuted in to run W&G from being chief executive of RBS’s troubled Ulster Bank. Mr Brown is replacing John Maltby, who originally led a private equity consortium to buy part of the bank once the flotation happens.

The spotlight will fall on Mr Bartlett after Mr McEwan stressed that one of the big challenges for W&G was its high cost base.

One challenge is that W&G has fallen below the 5 per cent of the small and medium-sized business banking that it is meant to control to give it enough firepower to compete against RBS itself — which has a quarter of the market — and other big banks.

That may not matter, because the European agreement was based on the notional size of W&G when the state-aid agreement was struck in 2009, not what its size will be by the end of next year.

However, some believe that the government will press for the business to contain the key 5 per cent of the market so that it can boost competition.

The chancellor has asked the Competition and Markets Authority to review W&G’s competitive position and to report back next month.

The CMA could order RBS to add more branches to the business, which could significantly delay the separation. At the moment, about 300 RBS and NatWest branches are to be rebranded W&G.

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