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Royal Bank begins auction of Williams & Glyn's

Robert Peston | 15:17 UK time, Thursday, 4 March 2010

The government, the Tories, the Lib Dems and the European Commission all say they want it: that's to build a more competitive banking market in Britain from the devastation wreaked by the bulldozing credit crunch.

What I've learned is that first steps have been taken in this direction with the formal launch by Royal Bank of Scotland of the auction of Williams & Glyn's, the small business and retail bank it is being forced to sell by the Commission.

RBS logo

The sale memorandum has been sent by RBS's financial adviser, UBS, to possible purchasers. And initial bids are due in April, before the most likely date of the general election on 6 May - though completion of the disposal is unlikely till after the election.

In respect of the rehabilitation of wounded Royal Bank, the sale will not be very material. According to bankers, proceeds may be around the book value of what's being sold, or possibly even a bit less, so perhaps a billion pounds or so - which would be a drop in the ocean of RBS's 2009 operating losses of £6.2bn.

But in respect of competition in the banking industry, the deal is potentially more important.

RBS is selling a business with 318 branches, about £20bn of loans and other assets and 2% of Britain's retail banking market - which is not huge, but not irrelevant either.

Perhaps what is most important is that 70% of the assets are loans and credit provided to small and medium size businesses, which is the part of the market where - many would say - competition is particularly inadequate.

The remaining 30% is credit provided to households.

So who is going to bid?

Well the two banks that seem most enthusiastic are Santander and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Money.

And of the two, Santander can obviously afford to pay more, because it would be able to reap sizeable cost savings from the takeover thanks to its substantial existing presence in the UK.

Virgin, however, would argue that it would increase choice and competition in Britain more than Santander would do - for the obvious reason that it isn't yet a substantial player in British banking.

What's relevant in that context is that Santander was originally on a list produced by the Commission of big banks that would not be acceptable buyers of Williams & Glyn's, because sale to them would not promote competition.

However that draft list was eventually ditched and replaced by a market share threshold for bidders: the combined market share of a bidder and Williams & Glyn's mustn't exceed 15%; and Santander just limbos under that bar.

That said, the natural buyer of Williams & Glyn's in many ways would be National Australia Bank (NAB) because its British branches in Scotland and the North East would dovetail beautifully with Williams & Glyn's in the North West and Scotland.

And if NAB enters the fray that would introduce some tension in the bidding process.

But bankers tell me that NAB may well decide to sell its UK operations, Clydesdale and Northern, possibly to Santander - which would rather stymie Royal Bank's disposal.


  • Comment number 1.

    Another banking story.

    How novel.

    Apologies to GC

  • Comment number 2.

    " distract attention from the real issues facing this country."

    Would the real issue be that both main parties are in the pocket of international corporate interests and financiers?

  • Comment number 3.

  • Comment number 4.

    So what you are saying is that the only bank who has the money is Santandar, which I believe is Spanish. Now I have no problem with the Spanish, but having just read an analysis on Spain's economic problems; their high un-employment; and that they are a major member of the "PIIGS" group of countries about to go bankrupt, I have to question why this bank is investing in the U.K. and not in Spain (its home country).
    Is it that the banks have now grown so detached from the real world that they are prepared to abandon their own countries and move into other countries for a quick profit.
    As Santander now appears to be moving into the U.K. high street at breath-taking speed, and spraying 'orange' over every bank/building society that ever existed, isn't it about time those Whitehall guys responsible for competition in the U.K.'s economy got off their backsides and started investigating?

  • Comment number 5.

    There was a rumour at the beginning of the year that Santander was in financial difficulty. They have heavy exposure to Spanish property, both commercial and residential. They have already bought banks in the UK o'on the cheap' but it looks like this pathetic government are willing to sell them even more. What happens when Spain goes under?

  • Comment number 6.

    So why does RBS, with all its super-human, bonus earning, top-talent "star performers" need a financial adviser in the face of another failed bank???

  • Comment number 7.

    OK I'll start the bidding then..........£1

  • Comment number 8.

    I am a customer of both a a RB's William and Glynns group (though my branch it is not under that name,) and of Alliance and Leicester AKA Santandar. So for me a sale to Santandar would definitely be anti competitive.
    It is true Santandar is based in Spain but is operates in several counties, and does the Australian outfit. Since Virgin is essentially a Brand name it depends who the management company behind it will be, but I wouldn't touch it having experienced the other franchises under the brand.

  • Comment number 9.

    National Australia Bank would be interesting.

    Especially as Australia was one of the most important countries we traded with before the common market. That's when we had our commonwealth trading partners who have since been shut out by European red tape.

    Looking at the state of sterling against the Australian dollar. Last visit there I got 2.7 Australian dollars to the pound. Now you would be lucky to get 1.65 to the pound. Don't know when I'll be able to afford the next visit.

    Rich in commodities Australia is well placed in Asia. Perhaps it's time to look at the commonwealth trading situation again seeing as Europe is becoming such a dead loss.

    That's if the 'Aussies' will ever forgive us for shutting them out.

  • Comment number 10.

    Maybe the banks could lend me the cash to buy this up?
    I would offer a bit of competition, not too much though if the banks are reading this. After all who else will lend me the cash?

    Any answers?

  • Comment number 11.

    Can I suggest you take 10 bloggers off here to run the new bank as directors with each British taxpayer as equal shareholders ?

    I guarantee massive increase in British Savers and commercial loans over the next few years along with moderate dividend return.

  • Comment number 12.

    4. At 3:43pm on 04 Mar 2010, EuroSider

    ....oh it's better than that.....

    Santander is one of the big national banks, and they have a reliance on the stability of the regional Spanish banks.

    The regionals have been suffering defaults on a massive scale since the Spanish property bubble burst (one of the UK's only growing exports - property bubbles) - however because of the way the system is structured in Spain this hasn't been affecting the big boys.

    I had over the limit guaranteed by the Govt. in Santander banks and I was concerned enough to move it and spread it out.

    However in this ever increasing monopolistic market of banking it's getting more and more difficult to spread out your risk - or more accurately the risk of your bank going bust.

    This is yet another Ponzi scheme which National Governments are ignoring - possibly the reason in Spain is because they are more concerned about their Government defaulting than their major banks.

    There's a good chance we will get another major bank failure - or Government default by the summer 2010 and that will shake it all up a bit. Then the markets will do their usual and reliable thing......PANIC!

  • Comment number 13.

    Another banking story.

    How novel.

    In support of GC and now Kit Green.

  • Comment number 14.

    Put it on ebaY, along with all other non-strategic publically owned assets.

  • Comment number 15.

    I welcome this if it has the right management - the SME market badly needs a return to old-style banking. Please no Santander.

  • Comment number 16.

    Yesterday I mentioned that when a major R & D facility was closing losing 1200 jobs and the knock on effect, guess what was the topic of the day on here yesterday......A banking story

    Guess whats todays topic is............ a banking story

  • Comment number 17.

    Surely,if Branson was unfit to control the national lottery,is he fit to own a bank?Perhaps,RBS should get hold a copy of Tom Bower's book to refresh their memory.

  • Comment number 18.

    It is not a credit crunch, it is a recession caused by the banks gambling away the money of depositors and the governments bailing them out and passing all the bad loans on to the taypayers. The economists always feel that if softer words are used somehow the people won't feel so bad about being robbed by the banks and betrayed by their government...ahh, but who wants to dwell on the past.
    The rules need to be changed and that hasn't happened. Downsize the banks, disallow the hedge-funds and dirivatives that caused the problems. Everyone wants to dance around the issue: unregulated banks and investment firms make decisions on a frequent basis that costs depositors and investors personal wealth while the bankers get rich. That is simply not a good system and often enough creates stalls in national and the world economy. Why all the mental masterbation over all this. Unregulated banks do bad things, there is a history of it, a track record, this is nothing that hasn't happened before. If nothing else, require honest advertisement and change the name from Banks to Casinos.

  • Comment number 19.

    What a surprise!

    Another banking story.

    There are businesses outside of banking you know.

  • Comment number 20.

  • Comment number 21.

    @ 11 Alesha Soba

    "Can I suggest you take 10 bloggers off here to run the new bank as directors with each British taxpayer as equal shareholders ?

    I guarantee massive increase in British Savers and commercial loans over the next few years along with moderate dividend return."

    Ha ha! I'd vote for your idea any day!

  • Comment number 22.

    In order to compete the "new" bank will either have to offer better rates or take greater risks than the other banks are prepared to.

    Oh how the other banks will chortle!
    Let the "new" bank fail. The taxpayers will bail them out of course..

    Meanwhile the other banks will just carry on business as usual.
    Yep this is UK business all right.
    More taxpayer's money pledged. Fed through to them of course.
    Nothing changes.

  • Comment number 23.

    #6 So why does RBS, with all its super-human, bonus earning, top-talent "star performers" need a financial adviser in the face of another failed bank???

    This was my first thought, then I realised: the mergers and aquisitions experts will have left because they could not get their bonus!

  • Comment number 24.

    Williams and Glyn's? A Welsh bank? At least it's not a Scottish one, for a change...

  • Comment number 25.

    One must be paid handsomely for managing a bank to failure and of course the bank of purchase needs a share and the other banks underwriting, and the Rating agency.....will certainly need a government infusion of money as nothing will be left..not to worry just add it to the national debt...

  • Comment number 26.

    Sorry Robert, your final para is incorrect. NAB sold off Northern in 2005. NAB now only consists of Clydesdale Bank which contains Yorkshire Bank.

  • Comment number 27.

    Rebranding is the name of the game.
    - AIG changed the name of some of its branches so that distance could be created between parent company and subs. E.g. AIG's property and casualty business became Chartis. AIG picked “Chartis” as the name for AIU Holdings LLC. CEO Edward Liddy was seeking to distinguish the firm’s businesses from the AIG name that he said was “thoroughly wounded and disgraced” by 4 US bailouts ($182.5B).
    The new Chartis competes against carriers like Chubb Corp. & Travelers, which remained profitable in the recession by sidestepping the investments in subprime home loans that hobbled AIG.
    - General Motors' GMAC financial unit was re-named Ally Bank.
    - Now Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is planning to adhere to Commissions requirements (& dump 312 of its branches in England and Wales). This will be accomplished by hauling out the old Williams & Glyn's.
    Why Williams & Glyn's?
    Williams & Glyn’s is easier to revive than creating a brand new brand. Look for the same concept to be applied to Lloyds, also under Commission edict to unload branches. That financial institution may rebrand to unload "Cheltenham & Gloucester".
    It seems that banks and insurance companies are hoping consumers will respond more favorably to names that seem unrelated to the troubled banks too big to fail.
    But I say, unless an audit has occurred that identifies, segregates and writes-off of toxic debt, I call rebranding - pulling the wool of the public's eyes and hoping they don't make the association between old garbage and new brand.

  • Comment number 28.

    Step 1 - Santander buy W&G
    Step 2 - Spain property bubble implodes, Santander up the creek
    Step 3 - HMG rescue W&G buy bailing it out with takpayer £££
    Step 4 - Quele Surprise, all the assets were shipped out of the country just before it went belly up, Glitnir style

    Not hard to see is it?

    I think I've earned my bonus today as I seem more expert than the banking pro's....

  • Comment number 29.

    Morning Robert,
    surely the problem of competition within the banking industry is due to the fact that (as Sir Richard found out) it is almost impossible for an outsider to obtain a banking licence! The bricks and mortar don't matter a jot.
    Even if you bought a firm with an existing licence you are still stuck because the major banks own the clearing system and can charge whatever fee they like to use THEIR system.
    If any Government, or the EU for that matter, was interested in proper, beneficial competition to give users a choice then they need to address the above two points first (but I don't think that I will see it in my lifetime). Once again the Goverment does the bankers bidding!

  • Comment number 30.

    Our local credit union is now doing so well, they've opened up a shop front.

    At last.

  • Comment number 31.


    Youve hit the nail directly on the head - they've lost people in droves and are now less capable than they were before. (Some would question their capability in the first place!)
    W&G being sold off is of course the first of many such activities which are now underway. The problem is, who in reality is going to buy them? Bargain basement prices as a result of the current situation means they are attractive to foreign investors - with Santander leading the way.
    Santander are the only part of the RFS (Royal Bank / Fortis / Santander) consortium which took on the mill stone of ABN Amro and made a profit - RBS nearly went under, and Fortis did go under (to all intents and purposes). I witnessed how Santander did it, (essentially "flipping" the parts they got from ABN in a very short space of time and at a good profit) and was impressed with them as an organisation.
    Rumours about their exposure to bad debt have been rife for years but they never seem to be founded in any evidence or truth..... And they are still operating strongly in a difficult climate.
    Perhaps we can learn in this country from some of their approaches to business.

  • Comment number 32.


    Thanks for clearing that up - i was somewhat confused by the the last 2 paragraphs as to my knowledge I was only aware of Northern Bank in Northern Ireland rather than Northern England...

  • Comment number 33.

    This story illustrates the need for banks to recognise that this financial downturn has given proof that no bank is too big to fail and the importance of good corporate governance. The problem not only rests with government spending – our corporate institutions must act responsibly too. The Jury Team are giving us a solution by proposing legislation which safeguards investor capital

  • Comment number 34.

    Robert Preston, is nobody else feed up listen to him.

    "What I've learned is that first steps have been taken in this direction", this is common knowledge, RBS has been told by the EEC that it must do this, it has no choice and is not happy about doing it, it is not news and Mr Preston hasn't learned anything, if RBS wasn't taking steps to do this it would be in serious trouble.

    This man states the obvious and as a "Banker" who is not over paid he is a serious risk of causing me to break the mute button on my TV controller, what an idiot.

  • Comment number 35.

    If Virgin money brought RBS's bank here it would definetly be good for competition. Santander already have brought Alliance and Leicester, Bradford and Bingley and Abbey, enough is enough me thinks. I'm keen to see Virgin get involved in the banking sector, personal retail banking in the UK, leave the big investment banking and commercial banking to giants like Barclays, HSBC that can afford it. What the high street needs at the moment is back to basics banking practices, Santander cannot offer that as they do have risks in the Spanish property market. A new player that is innocent in the banking sector would be good.
    Tesco Bank would be nice to see but i believe they only want to set up banks in their sizeable supermarket outlets.
    I would go with Virgin Bank for a current account if there was one near me as i believe Richard Branson has a good way of making money and keeping his customers happy. Virgin Blue in Australia brilliant airline.
    Oh and Virgin is a British brand Santander isn't.

  • Comment number 36.

    Robert, NAB sold Northern a few years ago to Danske and therefore I don't believe that they can sell it again - good idea though. Is this not the case?
    Also why would a natural fit be to take over branches in its own heartland rather than seek grown else where. Are they just buying the book and then going to have to make the staff redundent and have to sell of the assets, i.e. given the general population's love of banks at the momment can't see that being attractive PR for them!
    I also don't remember Williams & Glynn having a heartland in Scotland and the North is that accurate?
    If the above points in your article are inaccurate then how does this blogg make sense?



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