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Business Comment

James Moore: RBS has a lot to learn if it’s to regain customers’ trust


Outlook Oh dear. Just days after its chief executive Ross McEwan had again talked about his ambition to turn Royal Bank of Scotland into a paragon of banking virtue, it has egg all over its face again.

The thrower was Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Treasury Committee, who accused the bank of being “wilfully obtuse” over whether its Global Restructuring Group, which deals with distressed businesses, was run as an internal profit centre for the bank.

No less than Sir Andrew Large, former deputy governor the Bank of England, said that it was in a report into the treatment of small businesses by RBS, written at the bank’s behest.

A report which the bank, and its senior executives, were given prior to publication. They raised no objections to the term.

Then Michael Cooper, the bank’s senior public affairs manager, wrote to the committee to say that “GRG does not act as a profit sector”. The bank’s deputy chief executive, Chris Sullivan, and the head of GRG, Derek Sach, made the same argument. Now Mr Sullivan is back with some “additional comments” in the wake of a letter from a miffed Sir Andrew to the committee which, among other things, said that GRG staff used the term freely in correspondence with him.

Mr Sullivan now says that he and Mr Sach had no disagreement with the way the term was used by Sir Andrew. Only with the way other people have used it. By the way, he’d like to clarify that he had been given a copy of the report prior to publication. Even though he’d said he hadn’t.

The problem is there is nothing in the evidence, either oral or written, to suggest that Messrs Sullivan and Sach were disagreeing with others’ interpretation of Sir Andrew. In fact, Mr Sach explicitly stated that he believed Sir Andrew had got it wrong.

Mr Tyrie is not a man given to casual sound bites, otherwise he might very well have said something very much stronger than “wilfully obtuse” before a committee in response to all this.

Mr Cooper may simply have been doing his master’s bidding. But Messrs Sullivan and Sach, who have yet to make any apology, have managed between them to make the bank look cynical and duplicitous. It appears we’re not quite as far removed from the bad old days of RBS as Mr McEwan would have us believe.