James Moore: Safety in the storm may be the best thing for a bank in crisis

The Black Horse looked like a thoroughbred even during the worst of the financial crisis. It now looks like something best put out to pasture
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The Independent Online

Poor old Sir Win Bischoff. The Lloyds Banking Group chairman is at the centre of a perfect storm. The market has been understandably calling for clarity on what's happening at the top of the bank after its chief executive, Antonio Horta-Osorio, was forced to take a "temporary" leave of absence.

So that's what he's (sort of) provided by unveiling David Roberts, a fellow non-executive director with a decent track record, to replace finance director Tim Tookey as acting chief executive when the latter leaves in January. If, that is, Mr Horta-Osorio is still unwell in the new year.

The result? The shares get kicked and he gets kicked, with critics crying "shambles". The trouble is, that's because today's Lloyds is a shambles. As Nathan Bostock, the head of restructuring and risk at Royal Bank of Scotland who had been due to become chief executive of the wholesale division, must have realised. He's now staying put at RBS.

Moving to Lloyds, on the face of it, looks like exchanging a frying pan for a fire. But many thought the well regarded Mr Bostock was going to Lloyds because his chances of promotion there were better. After all, RBS's rather tetchy chief executive Stephen Hester isn't going anywhere. Not least because there's the small matter of £10m or so to bank if he puts RBS right.

However, it doesn't take someone with Mr Bostock's experience of banking to see the obvious: the flames are much hotter at Lloyds.

Indications of a decidedly dysfunctional culture at the Black Horse bank have been leaking out, not least because of the struggles it is having integrating HBOS.

While Lloyds is a conservative institution with rather too many checks and balances, HBOS was the reverse. Creating something that works out of the two – when you're also losing money and operating in an economy with titanic problems and the iceberg of Europe's sovereign debt crisis looms – looks like a nightmare. No wonder Mr Horta-Osorio succumbed to exhaustion. The only surprise is that more people beneath him haven't faced similar problems. Maybe they have.

The Black Horse looked like a thoroughbred even during the worst of the financial crisis. It now looks like something best put out to pasture. Or worse. Someone needs to get a grip. Soon.

Stress is not a condition to be taken lightly and Mr Horta-Osorio deserves sympathy. But if he is not well enough for this job then he really ought to say so. He's a talented chap and won't be short of offers when he's recovered.

Lloyds, in which we as taxpayers have a substantial interest, is looking in desperate need of a safe pair of hands. If Mr Roberts is that pair of hands, it might be better for all concerned if he were put in place now. Over to you, Sir Win.

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