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Viewing cable 09LONDON1069, RBS EXECUTIVES SAY “MEA CULPA” - AND SHARE PLANS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09LONDON1069 2009-05-06 14:02 2010-12-13 23:11 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy London
VZCZCXYZ0012
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLO #1069/01 1261457
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 061457Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2217
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY
Wednesday, 06 May 2009, 14:57
C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 001069 
SIPDIS 
TREASURY FOR MEYER AND WINN 
EO 12958 DECL: 5/6/2014 
TAGS ECON, EINV, UK 
SUBJECT: RBS EXECUTIVES SAY “MEA CULPA” - AND SHARE PLANS 
TO RESTORE BANK’S STANDING
Classified By: Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Mark Tokola for reasons 1 .4 b and d.
1. (C) Summary. Apologizing for the bank’s past excesses, senior Royal Bank of Scotland executives acknowledged that ambition drove the company to overreach and pursue investments with quick returns, which landed the bank in the deep trouble it is now. Bailed out by the UK government, which now has a 70 percent share, RBS is a pursuing a multi-year plan, with annual benchmarks, to right itself and become a profitable business again. RBS executives told visiting emboff in an April 28th meeting at the company’s headquarters in Scotland that this plan would include spinning off retail and commercial activity in Asia and pursuing cost savings of GBP 2.5 billion by 2011. Regarding the overall economic climate, RBS’s chief risk analyst was grim and thought the signs of recovery were delusory. He predicted that current upheavals in the financial services sector will continue, and that a return to “narrow banking” was possible. End Summary.
2. (C) RBS is acknowledging and apologizing for its mistakes, said Senior Economic Advisor, Stephen Boyle. Sir Tom McKillop, chairman, and Sir Fred Goodwin, former chief executive, have apologized to shareholders, the public, members of Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee, especially for the bank’s ill-timed acquisition of Dutch bank ABN Amro, Boyle stated. Proper due diligence on the purchase was not done, and the market timing could not have been worse. RBS executives had rigorously (if not blindly, Boyle added) pursued a vision of becoming one of the leading global banks, and this led to disastrous acquisitions.
3. (C) The lesson learned is that RBS must concentrate on its core businesses to recover strength and repay the British taxpayer. The bank, Boyle stated, is the process of designating core and non-core businesses, and defining a one-year, three-year and five-year strategy to reach its goals. Among the measures will be to run down or sell outright retail and commercial activity in Asia, and reduce dramatically capital intensive instruments like project finance. RBS intends to narrow the activities of its U.S.-based Citizens Financial Group, which lost $1.4 billion in the fourth quarter 2008. Several bank branches will be closed, and Citizens, like other RBS operations, will exit most activities outside its core “market footprint.” In the UK, RBS will limit itself to traditional retail and commercial activities, and some insurance-related work. It will also hold on to Ulster Bank.
4. (C) Another key component in re-structuring is cost reductions, with a goal of savings of GBP 2.5 billion by 2011, said Boyle. This will be done primarily through downsizing, with an expected 9,000 job cuts just in the UK alone, and thousands elsewhere in global operations. Staff reductions will be focused on those in IT, out-sourcing and physical plant management.
5. (C) Much of the success of RBS’ restructuring will depend on overall economic conditions, argued Peter Nathaniel, senior risk analyst. Selling off businesses, for example, requires suitable buyers. However, at least for next 18 months, the global economic recovery will be weak, at best, he said. While there are been a few positive indicators in the past month, no one should breathe a sigh of relief. The level of sovereign indebtedness and the cost of government borrowing will lessen chances for a quick and sustainable turnaround, he said. The UK government is in particular trouble, and will find itself at a disadvantage in terms of competing for capital, without a significant rise in interest rates - but that will also raise interest rates on its debt. He faulted HMG for being slow off the mark to address the crisis, and was particularly critical of what he said was the government’s tepid response in the fall and early winter.
6. (C) Speculating about the future of banking, Nathaniel predicted that de facto, there will be a return to narrow banking practices. The number of companies with diversified financial activity will be small in number, and even those exist will have high capital reserves, either adopted voluntarily or imposed by regulators, that will reduce liquidity, As an additional effect, higher reserves will limit risk-taking and could hamstring innovation. He predicted that boutique banks specializing in limited and defined market niches will emerge in the wake of the crisis, while banks like RBS will return to traditional banking activity.
Comment:
7. (C) Meetings were held in RBS’ Headquarters in Gogarburn, a 350,000 square foot building on a 78-acre site, which opened in late 2005. The building reflects the ambition of its leaders and its many vacant offices a sign of its new reality. While the executives were chagrined about some of RBS’ acquisitions, they still seemed reluctant to acknowledge there might have been other missteps. Former Chief Executive Sir Fred Goodwin has been particularly criticized for his bonus of GBP 2.8 million which he received in addition to his salary of GBP 1.3 million in 2008. While RBS Chair McKillop has made a more broad-brush apology, Goodwin has only admitted that the purchase of ABN AMRO was a mistake. In the public’s eye, RBS has a lot more explaining to do.
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TOKOLA