New Royal Bank of Scotland boss Ross McEwan today admitted to “trepidation” and “fear” as he started the job of returning the lender to a central role in the UK economy.
The 56-year-old New Zealander pledged to repay the taxpayer’s support by doing “everything possible” to help the UK economy recover, and promised that RBS would increase lending.
In a speech to staff at the company’s London offices McEwan, who previously ran RBS’ retail banking operation, also signalled a new focus on customer service which he hopes will eventually allow the group to put its 2007 collapse behind it.
Addressing hundreds of employees, he said: “Taking up the role at this 300-year-old institution that has had such a hugely proud history, I take the job on with a high level of trepidation and slight levels of fear, but also absolute delight at being you chief executive.”
The role, which comes with a salary of £1 million a year plus £350,000 in lieu of a pension, is seen as one of the toughest corporate jobs around.
McEwan faces the challenge of preparing the bank, 80 per cent state owned following its taxpayer rescue during the banking crisis, to private hands. Its progress to this goal is some way behind rival Lloyds, whose government stake has already begun to be sold off.
His predecessor Stephen Hester’s departure was said to have come about after he came under pressure from Chancellor George Osborne over the scale and pace of RBS’s investment banking restructure.
McEwan today praised Hester’s “remarkable achievement” in putting the bank back on a stable footing following the financial crisis.
The new chief revealed that his decision to join struggling RBS from an Australian bank had been motivated by his desire to work with Hester, who is said to have left “with a very big smile on his face” after wishing his successor well.
RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton today appeared to draw a distinction with the risky practices of the bank’s investment arm which took it to the brink, describing McEwan as a “customer banker through and through”.
The message was reinforced in McEwan’s speech as he highlighted the need to put customers, both individuals and businesses, at the heart of the operation – and he admitted that the bank’s systems needed to improve to allow that.
“We exist because of the customers we serve and we should never forget that,” he said.
He added: “It’s clear to me that we have a greater obligation than any other bank to build a business that supports its customers.
“We were saved by the Government five years ago because of how important we are to the everyday economy of the UK.
“I want RBS to stand firmly behind its customers with the explicit goal of helping them succeed. That includes an increase in our lending. We must do everything possible to support the recovery and future growth of the UK.”