Outlook: It's steady as she goes at NatWest

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The Independent Online
SO IT IS to be Sir David Rowland after all. After months of speculation that the NatWest chairmanship would go to Lord Blyth, chief executive of Boots, or alternatively that the bank was casting its net further afield for an outsider, directors have opted for the somewhat uninspired choice of Sir David. But then as the strategy at NatWest, after its disastrous experiment in investment banking, is now to concentrate on steady as she goes, conservatively run retail banking, the uninspired choice may well be the right one.

In many respects, Sir David is perfect for the job. He has an excellent track record in the financial services industry, most notably in steering Lloyd's of London through its dark night of the soul and out the other side, and is as well regarded as any in the City. He is thus easily capable of fulfiling that figurehead role that has traditionally been the place of a clearing bank chairman.

At 65, however, he is not only older than the man he is replacing, Lord Alexander, but he is also at an age where even part-time non-executive chairmen tend to be press ganged into hanging up their gun.

Furthermore, he is not a banker; his career to date has been exclusively in insurance, a quite different business. Given what happened at NatWest, it might not seem like such a good idea to replace one non-banker with another. Still, David Rowland at least comes in unambiguously as a part- time, non-executive chairman, so there should be no quarrel about who runs the show, as there has between Lord Alexander and Derek Wanless, the present chief executive.

His timing is also good; a semblance of calm has returned to NatWest after the traumas of the past few years, and the bank's recent set of interim results was well received in the City. Sir David's appointment may be cause for a bit of a yawn, but NatWest does seem to have alighted on someone few can object to, and with his background in financial services, he must be a better choice for the job than Lord Blyth, an engineer and retailer, or the present incumbent, a smooth talking barrister.