Outlook: Just who is taking over whom?

JUST WHO is taking over whom in this merger of clearing bank and life assurer? NatWest is doing the bidding, and the two top jobs of chairman and chief executive in the merged group will go to the NatWest incumbents, Sir David Rowland and Derek Wanless. So it seems to be game set and match to the bankers.

But the job of making the merger work, that of head of retail operations including retail banking as well as retail financial sales, will go to David Prosser of Legal & General. Fund management will also go to an L&G man, David Rough, marginalising NatWest's Paul Myners.

In an attempt to ensure that entrenched vested interest among the bankers doesn't bury Mr Prosser alive, in the way it did Martin Taylor at Barclays, L&G has demanded and received agreement for a slimmed-down board, and for Mr Prosser to be endowed with sufficient power to defeat the banking baronies should they prove in any way troublesome.

It is a tribute to Sir David Rowland, new in the job and unencumbered by the traditions and baggage of NatWest's past, that he has been able to agree these things, crucial as they are if the bank is ever to derive more than the anticipated pounds 120m of annual cost savings from the takeover. Even so, there's plainly plenty of scope for conflict and grief in a setup of this sort. Let's hope Mr Prosser has the stomach for it.

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