NatWest claims BoS `said sorry for going hostile'

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The Independent Online
NATWEST, the high-street clearer at the centre of a pounds 27bn bid battle, yesterday restated its opposition to Bank of Scotland's hostile bid for the group following a meeting between the two sides on Friday.

Sir David Rowland, NatWest chairman, said Peter Burt, Bank of Scotland (BoS) chief executive, had spent most of the meeting apologising for having gone hostile and had admitted that this was "a mistake".

However, Sir David insisted that Mr Burt had failed to give satisfactory answers to NatWest's questions about how BoS proposed to integrate the two businesses, and the meeting had yielded nothing to justify NatWest's board changing its view that the BoS bid should be opposed.

The NatWest chairman said: "The meeting that we attended with Bank of Scotland last Friday demonstrated a complete reversal of attitude by its management team. Whilst this is obviously a movement in the right direction, it raises serious questions about the judgement of the leadership of Bank of Scotland."

Friday's meeting was attended on the BoS side by Sir John "Jack" Shaw, the governor (or chairman), Mr Burt and Gavin Masterton, the treasurer. NatWest was represented by Sir David, Ron Sandler, chief operating officer, and Richard Delbridge, finance director. The morning meeting at the Savoy Hotel in London lasted about two hours.

Sir David's statement was seen yesterday as an attempt to counter suggestions that NatWest was softening its line on Bank of Scotland. The NatWest chairman was also clearly seeking to take the opportunity to rubbish Bank of Scotland's proposals for integrating the information technology systems of the two businesses ahead of a presentation scheduled for tomorrow.

Sir David repeated his rejection of the other bid tabled by Royal Bank of Scotland last Monday, but was markedly more restrained in his criticism of its proposals.

He insisted that in judging the offers on the table the key issue was "merits, not manners". He repeated his view that the BoS bid promised to deliver substantially the same savings that NatWest could deliver on its own, but with less certainty of delivery.

He also questioned Bank of Scotland's ability to add value in areas such as corporate banking, treasury and private banking, where its management "has little experience of the scale and sophistication of NatWest's businesses".