Citigroup chief set for top RBS job

Six-month search for finance director poised to end with appointment of US bank's treasurer
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The Independent Online

Royal Bank of Scotland is poised to announce it has poached a high-profile investment banker from Citigroup, who has wide experience of both the US and UK banking sectors, as its next finance director.

Britain's second biggest bank is set to announce it has hired Guy Whittaker, Citigroup's treasurer, who is currently based in New York.

RBS's six-month-long search for a new finance director has been closely watched in the City after the incumbent, Fred Watt, said in June that he wanted to leave to spend more time with his young children.

Institutional investors have made it clear to the Edinburgh-based financial behemoth that they did not want the list of potential candidates to be confined to Scots.

Instead, major investors have signalled that they wanted RBS to recruit either an American or an individual with considerable experience there, to reflect the fact that the US accounts for 27 per cent of its profits.

Mr Whittaker, a Cambridge graduate, joined Citigroup, the world's largest financial institution, in 1980 as a foreign exchange trader in its London treasury department. He was made treasurer of the whole group in 2000 and has been responsible for managing its balance sheet, making decisions about how its capital is allocated and handling issuance of corporate bonds.

RBS would not comment on its new finance director, saying: "We do not comment on speculation." Citigroup also said it would not comment on market speculation.

RBS has in recent weeks narrowed its list of candidates to two, both of whom have considerable experience in the US.

The appointment of a finance director comes as RBS has been struggling with unrest in its boardroom and several other difficulties. Sir Fred Goodwin, RBS's chief executive, is frustrated that shares in one of Britain's most ambitious and fast-growing companies trade at a considerable discount to Britain's other large banks.

At the same time, Sir Fred is in the spotlight over his relationship with RBS's chairman Sir George Mathewson and over concerns among investors that he has an inappropriate amount of control of RBS's board.

Sir Tom McKillop, the chief executive of the drugs company AstraZeneca, has been appointed deputy chairman of RBS and is widely expected to take over from Sir George next year.

While the City was wary of the appointment of another Scot, the choice of Sir Tom was welcomed because he has had considerable international business experience. He is also seen as a strong external chairman who can act as a counterweight to the strong-willed Sir Fred.

RBS has been completely transformed in the past five years from a Scotland-focused lender to one of the world's biggest financial powerhouses. Analysts credit its remarkable growth both to Sir George, who completed the transformational deal to acquire NatWest in March 2000 for £21bn, and to Sir Fred, who stepped into the top job from deputy chief executive and has overseen a strategy of rapid expansion, especially in North America. Thanks to a string of acquisitions, RBS is now the eighth-biggest bank in the US, where it employs 30,000 people.

The addition of Mr Whittaker is expected to be welcomed by RBS's shareholders. He joins at a time when RBS is managing a complex integration of its various businesses in the US and an investment earlier this year in Bank of China.

Mr Whittaker may have decided to leave Citigroup because his prospects of rising higher within the giant financial institution were limited. At RBS he could be lined up to succeed Sir Fred as chief executive when he chooses to step down.

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