Private Investor: What's wrong with taking up my RBS rights?
Saturday 26 April 2008
As a small-time shareholder in Royal Bank of Scotland I will, I can confirm, be taking up my rights. They're deeply discounted and, while I remain dead pessimistic about the financial sector, I don't think the Royal Bank's long-term prospects are so bad that I can ignore rights at about two-thirds of the prevailing share price.
The one thing RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin's strategy of diversifying income streams around the world and across different businesses has done is to give one some hope that the group will pull through the present difficulties in the developed economies. Eventually. What the wisdom of paying out a dividend now when it all has to be recouped via the rights issue escapes me.
Perhaps they had already announced the dividend and therefore were locked in to that decision. However, maybe that decision wasn't such a wise one at the time. I say that because the credit crunch has been around for a year. How long it would last was, and still is, unknowable. It will only come to a end end when the American housing market bottoms out. Who knows when that will be?
In any case, RBS shareholders will soon be in the strange position of receiving a dividend cheque and, effectively, sending it back together with a larger cheque for the balance o f the rights issue. A funny old game, banking.
As a customer of the NatWest, a part of the RBS Group, I am even less satisfied than as a shareholder. Allow me to give readers a free personal finance tip. I was foolish enough to be convinced that a "private banking" account was a good idea. I was very wrong. Do not, under any circumstances, take up such an offer. Stick to your plain old proletarian current account, if you can. It costs hundreds of pounds a year to have one of these snobby accounts and I have got absolutely nothing for my money. I was forced – there is no other word for it – to have a credit card as well, which I didn't want and for which I have to pay out yet more in fees.
Then there is your "personal relationship manager". Well, I have met two different iterations of my "personal relationship manager", but in recent weeks I have never been able to find out who my personal relationship manager is, still less talk to them.
This is because the private banking team aren't chaps in frock coats sitting around wood-panelled bank parlours sipping sherry and going through your accounts carefully noting what needs to be done. No, they are brainless battery hens in a call centre, with all the dreadful lack of attention and grimness that implies.
They will rarely answer the phone; they will not respond to emails; they will not return your calls; they will not help you; they are bad. They ought, given that their customers are wealthier and might need more varied (and profitable) financial needs, be the brainier more sassy types. They are not. That's if you get through to them at all. If you don't, which is usual, you get transferred to what is definitely a call centre. They're quite helpful – more so than your "relationship manager".
I've had more of those NatWest relationship managers than the average hooker has clients and I'm fed up of it. One even told me he couldn't help me with a problem because he and his colleague "didn't know me". Well they wouldn't, when they switch the relationship manager five times in two years or something. Besides, that is not the point of a bank. Few of us watch our bank manager's children grow up and have a pint with them every Friday night. The point is that the bank knows me, seeing as I have maintained an account with them for 21 years.
The strange thing is how the National Westminster promises so much from its private banking service and then ends up giving a worse service than I used to get when I had a plain current account (which was excellent service). And I get charged for it. So, as I say, don't do it.
If you want another tip, try the Alliance & Leicester. They've got a free overdraft facility for a year, which is very handy if, like me, you're financially incontinent. When I open my account you can ask me again if I'd sell my RBS shares and buy Alliance & Leicester ones. There's more to investment than putting your money where they offer good service, but it's a start. I wonder what kind of bank account Sir Fred Goodwin has.
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