Ross McEwan poised to replace Stephen Hester as RBS chief exec

New Zealander who began his career in insurance before joining Commonwealth Bank of Australia regarded as lead contender

A little-known New Zealander appears poised to take on one of the highest profile roles in UK banking by becoming chief executive of the bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland.

Ross McEwan, who joined the 81%-taxpayer-owned bank last year as head of its retail arm, has been regarded as the leading internal candidate since Stephen Hester suddenly quit in June.

After a number of external candidates were said to have rejected approaches by the bailed-out bank, he was regarded as the most likely to succeed Hester and the Financial Times reported that RBS was in talks with regulators at the Bank of England about securing approval for his appointment.

RBS would not comment but McEwan's appointment could be announced as soon as today – when its bailed-out rival, Lloyds Banking Group, is expected to publish results that will pave the way for the government to sell off part of its 39% stake – or more likely when RBS is due to publish its first-half results.

All top jobs need the approval of the Bank of England's regulatory arm, the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Assuming the watchdog approves his appointment, the expert in retail banking will be seen as a contrast to Hester, an investment banker who earned a reputation as a corporate restructuring specialist.

Hired by Hester last year to run RBS' retail bank, which includes NatWest, McEwan has already acclimatised himself to the bank, which paid £3m to buy him out of share awards he was due from his previous employer, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, before he quit to join RBS.

This buyout from his last employer may help RBS avoid any fresh row over his pay deal, while the appointment of an insider could head off any political criticism over the kind of pay package that could have been demanded by an external recruit.

The 56-year-old had lost out on the top job at the Commonwealth Bank when he was poached by RBS last summer and since then he is said to have tried to visit five RBS branches a week.

While he will need to hone his political antennae as he takes on a role that has more interaction between Westminster and the City than any other, he may also need diplomacy to handle colleagues who were also fighting for the top job, as the bank prepares to undergo yet another wave of restructuring five years after it was rescued with £45bn of taxpayer cash.

The investment bank Rothschild is currently considering the case for the government over whether to carve a "bad bank" out of RBS to leave a good bank that could be privatised more easily.

He arrived in the aftermath of the computer breakdown in June 2012 that left millions of RBS and NatWest customers unable to access their accounts for more than week. He immediately began to talk about spending £700m to focus on customer service and discussing the prospect of rejigging the branch network to shift the emphasis from traditional locations to newer sites in railway stations and shopping centres.

In May he admitted 1,400 jobs would go over the next two years from centralised operations, which employed 3,600 staff, including the head office in Gogarburn on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Although a banker for more than a decade, McEwan started his career in life insurance – he was chief executive of National Mutual Life Association of Australia/Axa New Zealand and held a senior role at the stockbroking outfit First NZ Capital Securities.

Married with two grown-up children, he lists water-skiing and cycling among his interests outside work. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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