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UKFI appoints Merrill banker to sell shares

The body set up to oversee the Government's stakes in banks that ran into trouble during the financial crisis has appointed a senior investment banker to manage the disposal of those shares.

UK Financial Investments (UKFI) announced yesterday that it was hiring Jim O'Neil to head its market investments division on a salary of £180,000 a year. Mr O'Neil is taking over the roles previously held by John Crompton and Tim Sykes, who left earlier this year. UKFI pointed out that the combined salaries of the former senior managers were £400,000 per annum.

Mr O'Neil spent 17 years at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, most recently heading its international corporate finance and restructuring business. At UKFI, he has been given responsibility for the group's role as an "active and engaged shareholder" in Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland and to protect the taxpayer's investments in the lenders. "He will also develop and execute the strategy for divesting the stakes in these banks," yesterday's statement said.

The UKFI chief executive, Robin Budenberg, called Mr O'Neil's appointment a "real coup" for the organisation and for the taxpayer. He said: "Jim has a rare combination of skills in both equity and debt-capital markets and in the banking sector."

Mr O'Neil added: "Disposing of these stakes in an orderly manner will be among the most important events in the capital markets over the coming years."

UKFI has experienced a series of senior defections over the past year. After Mr Crompton and Mr Sykes departed, its chief operating officer, Sam Woods, left to join the Banking Commission. John Kingman, the former chief executive of UKFI, stood down in July.