Abbey has hired Royal Bank of Scotland's chief executive of business banking to spearhead a push into commercial banking.
The bank, owned by Santander of Spain, said Steve Pateman would join within a month as managing director of commercial banking from RBS, Britain's biggest bank for small businesses. Mr Pateman has worked at NatWest and its parent RBS for more than 25 years. One of his final acts for RBS was to end free banking for a number of business customers.
Abbey has tried for years to expand into business banking but has stayed on about 5 per cent of the market for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with a focus on the smaller end of the market.
Since Santander took over, the bank has added some services for larger businesses, such as real-estate finance and invoice factoring. The intention is now to sell a wider range of services, including current accounts, for bigger SMEs and small to mid-sized corporates. The business, which is currently run online and over the phone, may start to operate through the branch network.
The move sees Santander poaching a highly regarded executive from its long-time ally RBS. The two banks teamed up to buy ABN Amro last year, the latest in a number of collaborations over the years. The banks' formal alliance was dissolved when Santander bought Abbey but they remain close.