RBS picks the NatWest 'Integrator' to untangle Dutch lender ABN Amro

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The Independent Online

The scale of the task ahead for Royal Bank of Scotland when it takes control of ABN Amro was underlined yesterday when RBS announced that its engineer-in-chief, Mark Fisher, would head the Dutch lender.

Mr Fisher is "the Integrator" – the nuts-and-bolts man who puts into practice the plans of Sir Fred Goodwin, RBS's chief executive.

RBS and its consortium partners, Santander of Spain and Belgium's Fortis, have entrusted him with the job of untangling ABN Amro so they can each take their spoils. He will replace Rijkman Groenink as ABN Amro's chairman, though in effect he will be chief executive of the business.

The affable Yorkshireman is best known for running the integration of NatWest after RBS bought its rival in 2000. RBS spotted Mr Fisher at NatWest and put him in charge of what was then the biggest ever banking integration. He joined NatWest in 1981 as a graduate trainee and rose to be the retail chief operating officer before the takeover.

Investors had doubted RBS's ability to pull off such a massive takeover, but the bank beat all its revenue and cost targets for NatWest.

Now Mr Fisher has to do it all over again, and his new challenge is unprecedented. Not only is the ¿70bn (£49bn) ABN deal the biggest banking takeover ever, but the consortium plans to split the Dutch bank three ways. RBS will get wholesale banking and Asia, Fortis takes the Netherlands retail and wealth management, and Santander will get Latin America and Italy.

Simon Maughan, an analyst at Blue Oak Capital, said: "ABN needs someone who is completely au fait with back-office systems, front-office systems and how a big bank works. It's all about integration and for that reason Mark Fisher is probably the best person."

Much is still up in the air, including the fate of some businesses and whether Fortis and RBS will separate retail from the payments platform that goes to RBS. Sir Fred raised the prospect on Wednesday of Fortis and maybe other banks sharing the platform.

The consortium takes control of ABN on 17 October and RBS has already identified 19,000 job cuts and ¿1.8bn (£1.26bn) of cost and revenue synergies.

ABN executives will be wary after enduring the consortium's hostile bid. RBS, like Sir Fred, is a ruthless operator, but Mr Fisher is known for being gregarious and straightforward rather than merciless. "He says, 'This is what I do, it's pretty basic but it requires attention to detail and rigorous, rigorous checking", and he has always seemed to be someone who loves that kind of thing," Blue Oak's Mr Maughan said.

Mr Fisher, who joined the RBS board last year, runs the paperclips-to-property manufacturing unit that houses all the banks costs and, RBS says, makes it super-efficient. He played a role in the successful delivery of the bank's vast Gogarburn headquarters just outside Edinburgh.

"He is highly competent. The manufacturing division has produced amazing economies of scale," said Collins Stewart analyst Alex Potter.

RBS says Mr Fisher's appointment from NatWest demonstrates how it keeps on the best people from its acquisitions.