Leaders: No end in sight for problems at RBS

Ross McEwan, CEO of RBS. Picture: AP
Ross McEwan, CEO of RBS. Picture: AP
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IF ANYONE believed the Royal Bank of Scotland was out of the woods and on the road to recovery, yesterday’s financial results will have put them right.

A £3.5 billion loss is admittedly an improvement on last year, but as has so often been the case in recent years, the Scottish financial giant remains shrouded in gloom, apparently unable to put its bad days fully behind it.

There seems to be a never- ending succession of systemic problems emanating from RBS senior management.

As has become customary, RBS bosses have acknowledged the inconsistency of paying millions of pounds in bonuses at a time when the public is still suffering the effects of austerity bought on by the banking collapse.

And yet the bonuses still get paid, and the public wonders yet again about the bullet-proof culture of entitlement among British bankers.

New problems seem to crawl out of the woodwork with monotonous regularity. This time, the new concerns are centred on the actions of the RBS-owned private bank Coutts. Yesterday, it was revealed it is being investigated by the German authorities over alleged tax evasion through the use of Swiss bank accounts – a controversial subject at the moment in light of recent tax disclosures about HSBC.

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The private bank, which can trace its history back to 1692, is also being investigated by the US justice department, over the allegation that “some of its clients may not have declared their assets in compliance with US tax laws”.

RBS chief executive Ross Mc-Ewan has promised to take “severe action” against Coutts staff if wrongdoing is established.

But Mr McEwan must be wondering when the litany of failures of corporate culture is going to end.

His predecessor, Stephen Hester, was meant to have left having done the hard work required to start turning RBS around after the banking crisis. Mr McEwan’s job was billed as the easier one of polishing the bank’s new image in preparation for its eventual full return to the private sector.

It has not proved to be as easy as that, and RBS’s apparent inability to reform itself is – from the point of view of anyone with an interest in the strength of the Scottish financial sector – depressing.

Chancellor George Osborne yesterday pressed the bonus issue with senior management. In a letter to incoming RBS chairman Sir Howard Davies, Mr Osborne said senior executives should not get bonuses – despite improved profitability. “Given the extraordinary support it has enjoyed in the past from taxpayers, I know you recognise that RBS must remain a backmarker on pay and continue to show responsibility and restraint,” Mr Osborne said.

Fat chance.

It seems RBS’s road to recovery is a long and winding one, with the arrival date a matter for endless conjecture.

A bad dose of technophobia

SO, YOU want to print out a document in the office, but the printer won’t work. The problem, it is clear from the flashing light on the control panel, is that the toner cartridge needs changing.

Putting aside for one minute the issue of what “toner” actually does, and what differentiates it from, say, “ink”, this scenario poses a bit of a problem for millions of office workers.

Because they no more know how to change the cartridge than they know how to hotwire a hovercraft.

Our relationship with technology is a complex one. For some people, the thought of taking a screwdriver to the back of a laptop and installing some extra RAM – whatever that is – holds absolutely no fear.

But for the majority of people, the workings of many – OK, let’s admit it, most – modern devices remain a complete mystery.

And yet we become more and more reliant on automation and gadgets, and every smartphone is now the electronic equivalent of a Swiss army knife, with its array of useful apps without which we would be lost.

Technophobes are strangers in their own land, with little knowledge about how their world works. They may know, from dim memories of Boy Scout days, how to lash a few poles together to make a rudimentary raft, but ask them to repair a wonky DVD player and they will have no idea where to start.

This state of affairs is unlikely to change. Most of us will continue to hate technology with a rare venom, as each new generation gives the world a new wave of the bewildered and the ignorant.

Technophobes unite. We have nothing to lose except our chargers. Then we’ll be in trouble.