RBS looks to heaven as Lambert defends standards on earth

RBS is close to agreeing a deal to sell 316 branches - as a new ethics body is set up by banks.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 26 Sep 2013
Bankers may be about to get a little closer to God: RBS is close to signing a deal to sell 316 of its branches to a consortium including the Church Commissioners, the Church of England’s investment arm.

The group – which includes government banking ethics chief Lord Davies’ Corsair Capital and Lord Rothschild’s RIT Capital – is expected to be told today that it has been singled out to make an offer for the branches.

That means the other two leading bidders – private equity leviathan Blackstone and W&G Investments, a company floated specifically to buy the branches – are out of the running. According to reports, although Blackstone’s offer was similar to Corsair’s, the latter’s ‘vision’ for the bank is more appealing.

A deal will bring to a conclusion a process that has been going on since 2008, when RBS was told by the EU that as a condition of its £20bn bailout, it had to sell off the branches, which once comprised Williams & Glyn’s Bank. Chances are that when the branches come into operation, they’ll be named Williams & Glyn’s again.

And just in time to ensure the new company stays on the straight and narrow, banks announced this morning that they had appointed former CBI chief Richard Lambert to head up a new body designed to oversee standards in the UK banking industry.

The new body was recommended in a report by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Lambert will be paid by banks (in the same way media organisations pay for the Press Complaints Commission) but won’t lobby on their behalf.

Banks’ critics (aka ‘everyone’) will say it’s long-overdue, after the myriad scandals (Libor, PPI, the near-implosion of the entire global economy) the industry has been embroiled with.

But, as BBC business editor Robert Peston pointed out this morning, if other industries did this, they’d become laughing stocks. Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrison’s would never club together to create a body to oversee customer service, because if their customer service was that bad, people would go elsewhere. With new rules making it easier to switch banks, they’re going to have to improve their standards – ethics body or no ethics body.

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