RBS keen for talks with Barclays

SIR GEORGE MATHEWSON, the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, yesterday kept up the pressure for merger talks with Barclays Bank, insisting that the recent consolidation wave on the Continent was increasing pressure on UK banks to merge.

Speaking as the bank reported a 19 per cent rise in first-half profits to pounds 531m yesterday, Sir George said: "We are not under pressure to do a merger. We believe we will create a lot of value. But we are always on the lookout for ways to create more." He added: "The most valuable merger is one between two commercial banks because that is the way to create savings."

These savings, he said, would come not just from eliminating duplication and replacing computer systems but also from a "change of ambitions". But to achieve those savings required strong management, he added, without naming names, and could not be achieved without the catalyst of a merger deal.

RBS approached Barclays about a merger immediately after Barclays' chief executive designate, Mike O'Neill, resigned on grounds of ill-health, but has so far been rebuffed.

Sir George yesterday contrasted RBS's track record in delivering profits growth from a low cost base with the weaker performance of English banks, saying only a merger could deliver the kind of improvements needed to ensure UK banks were not left behind by the European merger wave. "Any deal must have the ambition to be the leading bank in Europe," he said.

Hugh Pye, banks analyst at Robert Fleming, said: "A combination of the two banks has a very compelling element of business logic. Barclays owes it to its shareholders to look seriously at it." He added: "[RBS] is really growing quite strongly. It is because they are doing so well that Mathewson feels he is able to philosophise about a merger with Barclays. They are trying to talk the issue into a general state of public acceptance."