Outlook: Wanless close to landing his deal

SO IT looks as if Derek Wanless is finally going to get his deal. Barring unforeseen accidents, the NatWest chief executive is just days away from pulling off a pounds 10bn takeover of Legal & General, fulfiling his ambition of turning NatWest into a financial supermarket that can take advantage of the demand among the more affluent of the population for something more sophisticated than a deposit account as a place to stash their cash.

For choice, the City would have much preferred another straight banking consolidation, with its mouth-watering potential for cost cutting. But since the Government has made plain that's pretty much out of the question for the time being, it's going to have to make do with more bancassurance.

Mr Wanless has timed his move well. Sir Brian Pitman at Lloyds-TSB is too preoccupied with seeing that deal through his acquisition of Scottish Widows to want to spoil Mr Wanless's party. Meanwhile, Barclays is busy tacking up the bunting for the reception party of its colourful new chief executive, Matt Barrett. Mr Wanless is also going to be able to sell the deal as one done from a position of strength.

NatWest is a very different animal from the bruised and battered beast that nearly rushed into the arms of a more than willing Prudential. Had Mr Wanless done the deal that Sir Peter Davis was urging on him, or indeed agreed to merge with Abbey National - with which NatWest also talked seriously at that time - NatWest would have been seen as very much the junior partner.

It is a measure of how successfully Mr Wanless has turned around the bank's City standing that he is able to persuade someone of the calibre of David Prosser that NatWest can add something to a group as successful at what it does as L&G. It also shows how much the Lloyds deal with Widows has changed the dynamics of the marketplace.

Until recently, Mr Prosser was a staunch defender of the group's independence, despite some rumoured offers from the likes of Lloyds, Aegon, the Dutch insurer, and others. A consummate operator to the last, he is smart enough to detect which way the wind is blowing and act accordingly.

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