A message from our chief executive

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A message from our chief executive

This is my first message to you as Chief Executive. I took on the job because I believe we can make this a great bank for our customers. That’s also the best way to make RBS an attractive investment and a good place to work for all our employees. As I write today, we still have a long way to travel to achieve all of these goals.

This is my first message to you as Chief Executive. I took on the job because I believe we can make this a great bank for our customers. That’s also the best way to make RBS an attractive investment and a good place to work for all our employees. As I write today, we still have a long way to travel to achieve all of these goals.

We are a bank with a significant international reach but the UK is our home. It accounts for the majority of our income and it's where our reputation for customer service, community support and corporate governance will be won or lost. It is also the place where we have the most opportunity to build long-term shareholder value. We have unique responsibilities to the UK and meeting them will have financial rewards for our business.

Our purpose is to serve our customers and to meet more of their financial needs. And we need to find a way to serve them from a more efficient, effective and agile business platform than the one we have today. I will provide full details in February 2014 on how we intend to do this. Today, I want to set out my assessment of our current performance and the management actions we must take on capital and risk to ensure nothing distracts us from the task of making this a great customer bank again.

Recent performance

Our third quarter results show the areas where the bank is making progress and those where we still have more to do. I joined RBS just over a year ago because I respect Stephen Hester and admired the work he and his team had done to bring this bank back from the brink. I have seen at first hand both the scale of the challenge they took on and the success they had in what will go down as a remarkable corporate rescue. This has been a major achievement.

I know, however, that a balance sheet clean-up does not make a great bank on its own. We have posted our seventh consecutive quarterly operating profit today. But for the most part our improved profitability is driven by a fall in impairments rather than an increase in income. Revenue growth in our main business franchise - UK Retail and Commercial - is not what we would like it to be at this point in our recovery. I’m encouraged that costs are down 8% on last year, but they are still unsustainably high. Our Core Return on Equity was 7.7% in Q3 2013 - down from 8.9% and 9.3% for the full year 2012 and 2011 respectively. We must do better and we can do better.

RBS is a very complex business that is difficult for our employees and the outside world to navigate. But the heart of our performance problem is quite easy to understand: we make it too hard for customers to do business with us and too hard for our people to serve those customers well.

Our personal customers do only part of their everyday banking with us and there is no reason why we can’t do more to support more of our customers’ needs. We still receive far too many complaints, often on issues that would never arise if our systems and processes were more effective. We are the biggest backer of small businesses in the UK. Every year we speak to thousands of potential new small business customers but at the moment we don’t convert enough of those conversations into actual new loans. And we haven’t made the most of the opportunities in our international network by connecting the different parts of our corporate franchise to the needs of our customers. There is a big opportunity here and we are already beginning to seize it. The restructuring of our investment bank to lower its risk profile is in full swing and it is encouraging to see some signs of delivery from the business focus on our corporate and institutional customers.

No-one is more frustrated by this gap between our potential and our performance than our own people. I will make turning this situation around the top priority of everyone at RBS. We must become a company that knows what it means to obsess about our customers. This is a fundamental challenge that will involve the whole organisation.

Improving our customer performance - February 2014

So realising the full potential of our customer businesses is now our major challenge and opportunity. I am confident that we can do it. The potential I saw in the Retail Bank exists across the other businesses – strong market positions, stable businesses and good staff who are eager to serve the customer better. I have launched a full review of our ongoing businesses that places the needs of our customers at its centre. It will consider three broad areas:

1) What can we do to meet more of our customers’ needs and make ourselves simple and easy to do business with?

2) How do our operations and IT systems function for the benefit of customers? How do our core systems help or impede our employees in their work for customers?

3) How well does RBS work together as an organisation built to serve our customers? What can we do to make life simpler for employees and how can we simplify things so the whole of RBS can be greater than the sum of its parts?

The business review will also capture the tough calls on costs where they are needed to improve the performance and effectiveness of the bank. We currently have a cost:income ratio of 65%. That means we only have 35p left from every £1 we earn to invest in making our business better for customers and improving returns for shareholders. Our cost:income percentage needs to be down in the mid 50s. I will announce a new plan for the way the bank serves its customers around the time of our full year results in February 2014. That plan will require full focus from all our people.

Good Bank/Bad Bank Review

While everyone at RBS has been working hard for the last five years and the vast bulk of our balance sheet restructuring is now complete, we still have some hard work ahead of us. An important early challenge for me is to resolve the remaining legacy issues that have taken up a lot of the top management’s time for the last few years. Without doing so we will not make the most of the plan I will set out in February.

Five years ago, our Non-Core assets totalled £258 billion. Through the good bank/bad bank review we have, over the last few months, been working with our major shareholder, the UK Government and their advisers to assess how far we’ve come in tackling the assets that continue to be a drag on our performance. We have a richer shared understanding of where we are today than we would have if we had not applied the rigour of this process. It is important for investors, regulators, and the management of the company that we have an agreed, robust assessment of our problematic assets.

We worked closely with HM Treasury and their advisers and identified a pool of £38 billion that we agreed would be a drag on our performance. These assets consume 20% of our capital and are made up predominantly of the most high risk assets we have in RBS.

Through this review it has become clear that the effort, risk and expense involved in the creation of an external bad bank is not justified. The good bank/bad bank review has from the start been carried out in conjunction with the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA). This has allowed us to address our shared objective of identifying ways in which to strengthen the capital position of the bank, speed up the recovery in our core UK businesses and accelerate the path to privatisation. The options open to the Group have been debated extensively by the Board and the Board has decided that RBS should take the actions we are announcing today.

One of the first steps we are taking is to create an internal “bad bank” to manage these assets down so as to release capital. Our goal is to remove between 55% and 70% of these assets over the next two years. While there is inevitable uncertainty associated with running down such assets, we have a clear aspiration to remove all these assets from the balance sheet in three years. Our track record in delivering the Non-Core run-down to date should give everyone confidence that we can deliver on this plan. It will be called RBS Capital Resolution Group and will have strong and transparent governance and disclosure via an oversight committee which reports regularly to the main Board.

Disposing of these assets over a shorter timeframe will reduce the value we can expect to recover, and will lead to accelerated and increased impairments. This will result in an immediate reduction in our expected loss capital deduction. The net impact of this on our CT1 capital ratio today is a reduction of c.10 basis points. However, by the end of 2016 we anticipate an incremental £35 billion reduction in RWAs; and a net incremental improvement in our CT1 ratio and a strong improvement in our stressed capital ratio. This is the right thing to do as we sharpen our focus on our customer businesses, which account for over 90% of our assets.

Actions to improve our capital

Great banks have strong liquidity and capital positions. Our liquidity position is already strong without question. I also want to dispel any impression that RBS is travelling light on capital.

The Board has decided to lift our capital targets and take new actions in order to meet them. There are three drivers of our decisions:

1. You only have to pick up the newspaper every day to know that the sector faces capital risks from the continued cost of litigation and charges for bad conduct with our customers. As we have been disclosing for some time, we are squarely in the mix on some of the issues that have proved expensive elsewhere. The only option is to plan to carry more capital so we can absorb these costs as we work to put things right for customers.

2. The PRA has established a capital regime which gives it sufficient scope to vary capital requirements based on its assessment of the risk an individual bank poses to the UK financial system. Having completed a consultation period with relevant institutions, the PRA is expected to publish finalised rules for the new capital regime in December 2013. We expect that the PRA will require banks to hold a higher quality of capital in greater amounts and it is therefore prudent that RBS respond in a proactive manner.

3. The current pace of momentum in our core businesses means we are not rebuilding capital as quickly as we planned.

There is a range of possible outcomes on the actual capital position at different points in time. It is our prudent judgment that RBS should now be targeting a fully loaded Basel III Core Tier 1 ratio of c.11% by the end of 2015, rising to 12% or beyond by the end of 2016 - an increase of 300 basis points from our current position.

In order to meet our new capital targets we are announcing several new actions today:

  • We will accelerate our divestment of Citizens with a partial IPO now planned for next year. We plan to fully divest the business by the end of 2016. It is a good business, with the potential to build profitability and its own shareholder base, but it’s not one that is an essential element of our strategy.
  • The rationale for the original IPO holds and we envisage secondary sell-downs to complete the process, as we have done successfully with Direct Line Group.
  • Across the business we are intensifying management action to reduce risk-weighted-assets. The creation of our internal bad bank will on its own have a significant positive impact on our capital in the latter period of its rundown. The reduction of risk-weighted assets should position us safely above regulatory requirements and alongside the world’s strongest financial institutions.

Ulster Bank

Like all of our businesses, Ulster Bank will form part of our February 2014 review. Subject to regulatory approval, a number of Ulster Bank assets (approximately £9 billion) will be managed by the “bad bank” and run down. But we also need to have full confidence that the rest of the Ulster Bank business is doing all it can for its customers and is playing its part within the wider company. We need to ensure that we have a viable and sustainable business model for Ulster Bank as part of this review. It’s an important business for the whole island of Ireland and we understand the need to get this right.

Dividend Access Share

We are in advanced discussions with the UK Government about the removal of the Dividend Access Share. We are making very good progress in dealing with this issue which I know is important to many current and prospective investors in the company.


Today Sir Andrew Large will publish the summary of his review into lending to small and medium-sized businesses, which we commissioned earlier this year. The picture he will paint will not be an entirely comfortable one, but it’s one we have to confront. I know that a successful, vibrant, and well-regarded SME bank is central to the overall value and reputation of this company. We must ensure our policies, processes and systems help our people to do the best job they can for customers and shareholders in this area. Our aim is to become the number one bank for SME customer service in the UK – including as measured in a new survey of SMEs by the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce – and to grow our lending along the way.

We have taken a number of steps to change and improve the way we do business but the Large review will show that there is significantly more we can do to expand our lending to small and medium-sized businesses. More recently, some of our competitors have managed to increase their lending in this area while we continue to contract. The detailed report will be published in one month’s time. Its thematic findings are difficult to argue with and we will address all of the detailed issues it raises in the comprehensive business review I mentioned earlier in this letter.

We now have a shared vision for the bank that includes the Board, our principal prudential regulator and the UK Government. I believe this is beneficial for all of our shareholders. The actions we are announcing today, when complete, will create a less complex, more effective customer business capable of delivering returns that will be attractive to prospective shareholders. They will create a bank that can reward the faith of UK taxpayers and all our investors.

RBS has made a lot of progress since 2009. As ever with any long and difficult job, a degree of weariness and even defensiveness has crept in. We have got to move on as a company. The bar has been set at a higher level for RBS than for other UK banks because we were rescued at the public’s expense. I have asked all our people to embrace the higher expectations that people have placed on our bank. That’s the only way we will build a really great business for our customers, our people and our shareholders. That’s my aim.

Ross McEwan, Chief Executive

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We’re now NatWest Group

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