New banks, or more of the same?
Great news, bank customers! There's more competition on the high street, as the Royal Bank sells off 311 of its RBS-branded branches in England, and seven branded NatWest outlets in Scotland.
Well, there should be. But is there?
This is a large part of what the European Commission demanded as the price of approving the UK government's bailout. It saw Britain's banking system as in need of more competition.
The former Chancellor, Alistair Darling, was in agreement - that this was an opportunity to increase the amount of competition for customers.
The new Chancellor, George Osborne, agreed too.
Then why is it that the sale of this large tranche of the British banking market has been to Santander, one of the existing big players?
Every high street, and lots more besides, will recently have seen the Abbey, Alliance and Leicester and part of Bradford and Bingley take on the Spanish giant's branding over recent months.
So this acquisition of 318 RBS-branches only makes the fifth biggest player quite a bit bigger, and doesn't seem likely to expand the range of options and products available to the consumer.
Note this has been a strong part of RBS. It's not one of those non-core Asian assets - mostly legacy of the former Dutch empire of ABN Amro - that it's flogging off with some enthusiasm.
With the branches, Santander is gaining 1.8 million retail customers, or 2% of that market.
It gets 244,000 small and medium-scale businesses and 1,200 mid-corporate clients, both representing 5% of those markets within Britain.
The tranche of RBS had £21.5bn in total assets and £22bn in customer deposits at the end of last year.
The European Commission required divestment within four years, starting last autumn. So this was an opportunity for the regulators - and RBS's biggest shareholder, the UK government - to use their clout do something significant for banking competition, just as they said they wanted.
But the way the sale turned out, others stepped away and RBS was left negotiating with only one bidder.
Aussies walk away
The attraction of encouraging National Australia Bank to build up its presence would have made good sense.
With Clydesdale and Yorkshire already under NAB ownership, the RBS branches would have given it a network with particular strengths in north-west England, while Northern Rock's sale could give it clout in nort-east England.
The Melbourne bosses were interested, but stepped away when they decided opportunities look better outside Europe.
That tells its own story about the continent's economic position in the world.
With more divestments on the way, immediate attention shifts to RBS sale of its transactions business. An announcement is expected soon.
Then it's on to its insurance business, including Direct Line and Churchill - also forced on to the market by the European Commission.
There's no evident rush there.
The downturn has hit profits. Claims, it seems, go up when people get short of cash. And there are further efficiencies to be driven in these businesses before they can maximise their sale price.
Then it's on to Lloyds Banking Group, which has been told by the European Commission to sell off Lloyds TSB Scotland and Cheltenham and Gloucester.
No sign of movement on either of them so far, and it has more than three years in which to do so.
It has been watching the RBS sale with interest, presumably thinking there will be a better price for Lloyds' assets further down the road.
If this morning's announcement of a boost to Lloyds' profit is any guide, the price of bank assets may indeed begin to rise.
You've got to wonder if the RBS sale of those 318 branches has been done too hastily.
- NatWest in Scotland
- The sale of seven NatWest branches in Scotland raises the question of whether they might be replaced.
- They've had two roles. One has been to provide services to NatWest customers in England and Scotland who find themselves temporarily in Scotland.
- And they are in university locations to appeal to English students in Scotland, who can be expected to return south of the border - taking their income, wealth and borrowing potential with them.
- That business case remains as compelling now as before, so why not open up new branches?