Scotland business

Clydesdale Bank owner announces strategic review

Clydesdale Bank
Image caption NAB is undertaking a review of the Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks

The Australian owner of the Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank is looking for options to sell or radically reform the businesses.

National Australia Bank (NAB) has reported strong profits for the final quarter of 2011.

But its British subsidiary has faced "increasingly difficult" trading.

NAB has announced a review of Clydesdale and Yorkshire, to reposition them and improve returns, often seen as a prelude to a sale.

Another option could be significant cutbacks to the scale of operations, with possible job losses.

The bank has blamed the poor performance of the UK economy.

Its chief executive said the austerity programme of the UK Government has also contributed to the harsh business environment and its decision to carry out the review.

The two bank brands, run out of Glasgow and known within NAB only as Clydesdale Bank, have been the subject of long-running speculation, as the parent company has sent conflicting signals on what it wants to do with its only European operations.

With the Australian economy doing relatively well, and opportunities to expand in Asia, Clydesdale Bank has been seen increasingly as a problem for its owner.

Group chief executive Cameron Clyne commented with his quarterly results on Tuesday morning in Melbourne: "It is clear that the UK economy is likely to experience a much longer period of subdued growth with the ongoing sovereign debt crisis in the Euro-zone and the continuing austerity program by the UK government.

"UK GDP declined by 0.2% in the December quarter. These difficult conditions have adversely affected the performance of UK Banking.

"Given our view that recovery is now a longer term prospect, NAB has commenced a strategic review, and will work with UK management to appropriately reposition its business mix and structure for the changed economic environment and improve returns. We will inform the market of the outcomes of the review, which we expect to occur by the time of our interim result in May 2012".

In recent weeks, Clydesdale Bank received an injection of extra capital from the Australian parent company.

'Tough decisions'

David Thorburn, chief executive of Clydesdale Bank, sought to reassure its retail customers.

He said: "The time is right for us to re-examine our business, given the recent reversal in the economic recovery, the structural changes in the UK banking market and our performance in that context.

"Given the right business mix and structure is vital and the review will shape that. However, it is already clear that the economics of our retail banking operation are strong.

"We will continue to support our branch network and invest in developing online and telephone banking services for both retail and business customers. We will also remain committed to providing support for savers and mortgage customers across the UK.

He added: "Although re-shaping the business will mean that we will have to take tough decisions, we are confident that the outcome will provide a strong and sustainable future for Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks."

The Unite union said news of the review had "come out of the blue" for staff at the banks.

Unite national officer David Fleming said: "Unite has grave concerns about the scale of the review and over the future commitment of NAB within the UK.

"We have opened up dialogue with management in order to get urgent clarification as to the possible implications for the staff."

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