Shareholders attack Abbey rebranding

Shareholders in Abbey National launched a savage attack on the high street bank yesterday over its £11m rebranding last year, saying it had failed to revitalise the struggling business.

The deluge of criticism at Abbey's annual meeting in London came as it was forced to hand out more bad news to investors, warning that profits in its core personal financial services division were "moderately weaker" than originally expected. Abbey's shares fell 15p to 420p. Yesterday's share price decline follows weeks of below-par performance during which time the shares have fallen from a high of 596.5p.

Shareholders at the meeting said Abbey's decision to drop "National" from its title and to ditch its traditional red umbrella for more modern pastel shades had made it a non-entity on the high street.

Norman Edwards, a private shareholder, said: "You've done the most magnificent job of camouflage since the Second World War. You can stand three doors down from a branch and not see it."

Another shareholder, Veronica Hosking, said she had been foxed in her attempts to find her local Abbey outlet because "it looked more like a dress shop than a branch".

Luqman Arnold, who was recruited in October 2002 to try to return Abbey to profitability, defended the decision to change its image as well as working on improving its products and levels of service.

"When you have a situation where a company has really lost its way and you need to make a call to arms to your 25,000 people, the name is a symbol of everything else you do," he said.

Abbey is just under half-way into a planned three-year turnaround. Mr Arnold, formerly at UBS, has made personal financial services core to Abbey's recovery. However, yesterday he had to admit that profits had been hurt because of a range of problems.

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