What better way to make people forget a trying past than to change their name? This is the strategy that the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has just adopted to turn the page of the financial crisis with which its name is associated in the minds of the British. The 293-year-old Scottish bank will therefore become Natwest, later this year, after one of its subsidiaries. Alison Rose, its chief executive since November and the first woman to head a large British bank, wants to give her a new start. She intends to reorganize the group she judges “too complicated” for its clients and continue to reduce investment banking activity.
After numerous excesses, RBS had to be saved from bankruptcy in 2008 by the British state, which nationalized it at the cost of 45 billion pounds (54 billion euros). Ten years in the red followed with very heavy losses (a total of 58 billion pounds or 69 billion euros), linked in particular to numerous and costly disputes and a deep restructuring. The bank has severely slashed its workforce and cut its international and market activities to refocus on the UK and retail banking.
Since 2018, RBS, in which the British State still holds 60% of the capital, has been doing better and has returned to profit. An improvement that could prompt the government of Boris Johnson to sell an additional share of the capital, even if the value of the share is more than half the price paid during the nationalization. The past is difficult to settle.