You live and you learn: Sir Philip Hampton

RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton on why RBS is a good business and why banks are still obsessed with getting a bigger share of customers' wallets.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Becoming finance director at British Steel in 1990 was my first big role. At 37, I was incredibly young to be offered the job at a FTSE 100 firm. I brought the average age of the board down to 59.

Being a corporate fixer is a label I don't think I'll ever shift. RBS's problem is that it expanded too much without effective controls. But big parts of the company are really good. The retail bank makes a reasonable return. Effectively managed, RBS will be a sound business again.

Banks do need to change their attitudes. At Sainsbury's, the business model was centred on keeping the customer happy. In banking, it's how we can get a bigger share of our customers' wallets. The customer is an opportunity rather than someone to satisfy.

Banks have got a rock-bottom reputation; understandably so. If more women had been in power during the financial crisis, we would have had a more balanced discussion about risk and strategy. The sector did develop a gun-toting culture consistent with an all-male environment.

You have to be straight with people. Shareholders are not going to get their money back in my lifetime. It is highly unlikely shares will go up 30 times to their pre-bailout peak. The horrible part is the small shareholders who lost their life savings because they thought RBS was secure.

My biggest concerns haven't been in banking. At British Steel I was involved in many plant closures. It devastates a community and it was very ugly. But it had to be done. The businesses were losing money.

The computer glitch was awful. Letting customers down is most regrettable. And PPI has been a £1bn headache for RBS so far, and it's likely to get worse. But I wouldn't put it on the same scale as 10,000 people in the same town losing their jobs.

I'm 60 next year. I want to make sure RBS is put properly back on its feet. But when you're chairman of a company that's 82% owned by politicians, you've got to be very careful about thinking what your tenure might be. A week can be a long time in banking.

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