‘Alpha male culture contributed to RBS demise’

Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Virgin Money CEO Jayne-Anne Gadhia — a former leading executive at Royal Bank of Scotland — said in an interview that the “alpha male” culture at RBS and former CEO Fred Goodwin’s obsession with growth contributed to the near collapse of RBS during the financial crisis.

RBS had to be bailed out for about £46 billion by the UK government during the financial crisis and the UK taxpayer still owns about 71% of the Edinburgh-based bank.

Gadhia was managing director of the RBS mortgage division and then its consumer finance division between 2001 and 2007.

She said she enjoyed her time at RBS but noticed a cultural shift following its takeover of NatWest in 2000.

In an interview with BBC’s Desert Island Discs programme, Gadhia said: “It was such a brilliant deal to have done.

“It made RBS this great bank in Scotland, one of the biggest banks certainly in the country and probably one of the biggest banks in the world and as a result I think the management team — Fred Goodwin in particular — were feted for that success.

“What that did, I think, was to create a drive for more and more of that growth and that success and result, and in the end, that overfocus on the output at all times meant that the senior management there lost control, both of the business itself and the culture that underpinned it …

“I think that in a very alpha male culture — and certainly we saw a bit of it, a lot of it maybe, at RBS — it was an attitude of win-lose.

“You know, ‘I am going to win, I am going to succeed at all costs’ and I think that has been very damaging.”

Gadhia recalled that she was approached about getting RBS involved in subprime mortgage securities — the abuse of which contributed hugely to the banking crisis.

“It wasn’t Fred Goodwin at all that asked me to do this, but one of his team asked me why we were not securitising subprime mortgages,” said Gadhia.

“We scratched our heads and said how does that work then?

“But not because we could see the train coming down the track, but because we thought all these really clever people really knew what they were talking about and we didn’t.

“And it made me think: if I don’t understand anything, I’m not going to do it.”

Gadhia said banking has been transformed since the crisis amid new regulation.

“Being driven by the profit motive purely is never, ever going to result in the best form of banking,” she added.