LLOYDS Banking Group could become the first UK high street lender to be chaired by a woman after Sir Win Bischoff announced his retirement.
The bank confirmed that Bischoff, 72, would leave “no later than” next year’s annual general meeting in May.
The announcement sparked speculation that the board could be pressed to consider a woman for the role as a result of Bischoff’s avid support for increasing female leadership among top UK firms.
Boardroom high fliers that could fit the bill include Scottish financier Anita Frew and Canadian/British accountant Ann Godbehere.
Paul Tucker, who narrowly missed out on a promotion to become Governor of the Bank of England last year, and former JP Morgan banker Bill Winters are also considered likely candidates.
In addition to her existing role as a non-executive director at Lloyds, Frew is a supporting chairman alongside Bischoff with the 30% Club, an initiative launched two years ago to encourage businesses to adopt voluntary gender targets for their boards.
Since he replaced Sir Victor Blank in 2009, Bischoff has overseen a complete renewal of the board’s membership. He replaced former chief executive Eric Daniels with Portuguese banker Antonio Horta-Osorio following the bank’s controversial takeover of HBOS and the resulting £20 billion government bailout.
Bischoff has appointed three women to Lloyds’ ten-strong board during his four-year tenure: Frew, Carolyn Fairbairn and Sara Weller.
Industry and political sources have said the government is keen to start selling shares in the bank ahead of the 2015 general election and the new chairman will be tasked with handling the potentially delicate political process.
Shares in Lloyds have been edging closer to the 61p level which the government regards as its break-even and last week hit a two-year high of 59.1p, raising hopes Britain could soon start selling its shares, which have a stock market value of around £17bn.
The new chairman will also take charge at a time when Lloyds is planning to float 632 branches after the collapse of a planned sale to the Co-operative, in a divestment ordered by the European Commission as a price of accepting the state bailout.
Bischoff will chair the bank’s annual meeting on Thursday in Edinburgh.
Anthony Watson, Lloyds’ senior independent director, will lead the search for the chairman’s successor “commencing immediately”, the bank said.
The bank is likely to examine the credentials of both internal and external candidates in a process expected to take months. The Treasury and UKFI, which looks after the taxpayers’ stakes in the banks, are expected to have a say in the process.
Bischoff said: “Lloyds Banking Group has, over the past four years, made significant progress in its goal to become a strong, efficient, UK-focused retail and commercial bank.
“Whilst clearly some challenges remain, the performance of the group is well on track. Indeed, in many areas, it is ahead of plan. This gives me every confidence in the future success of the group and it is therefore a good time to start the search for my successor.”