For sale: RBS' Coutts International

RBS has just put a 'for sale' sign outside the global arm of its high-end wealth management division, the bank which counts the Queen among its customers.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 16 Dec 2015

Proof, if it were needed, the finance sector is still in flux: RBS has told its staff it is considering selling the international division of Coutts, its private banking business, which counts the Queen among its customers. Analysts reckon it could be worth as much as £400m.

In an internal memo, the bank said today it's mulling the idea of flogging Coutts International, which serves wealthy clients in Europe, the Middle East and Asia and has just shy of £30bn assets under management. The other options being looked at include 'merging the remainder of the current Coutts International business' or joint venture, 'thereby reducing RBS' footprint internationally'.

This is no trifling decision, partly because the bank was founded in 1692, so it has a long and proud history; and partly because it accounts for 41% of Coutts' business: of the bank's £221m profit in 2013, the international arm accounted for £67m.

But Coutts' UK business is in the process of being integrated into RBS' commercial banking division as part of a strategic review announced in February. In fact, the bank is in the process of heavily shrinking operations it sees as unnecessary, many of which (private banking, investment banking) were once seen as jewels in the bank's crown.

Who could buy it? There are hints several Asian banks - including Bank of Singapore and UOB - are interested. Shareholders, though, are less confident: RBS' share price fell 1.2% on Monday. Not a great way to start the week.

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