NatWest-RBS deposits up to £453bn, but income falls

NatWest Group, formerly known as Royal Bank of Scotland, said in a trading update on Thursday its customer deposits increased to £453.3 billon in the first quarter of 2021, up 5% on the previous quarter and up 17.8% on the first quarter of 2020.

NatWest, still 59.8% owned by the UK taxpayer, said first-quarter total income fell 15.9% to £2.65 billion — down from £3.16 billion in Q1 of 2020.

However, operating pre-tax profit in the latest quarter rose 82% to £946 million — compared to £519 million in Q1 of 2020 when profits were harmed due to Covid loan loss provisions.

NatWest-RBS has been run from London for some time, but nonetheless NatWest CEO Alison Rose felt compelled to tell reporters on Thursday the bank would move its “registered headquarters” from Scotland if the country votes for independence in a referendum.

“We have been very clear, and it’s recognised by senior nationalists, that in the event that there was independence for Scotland our balance sheet would be too big for an independent Scottish economy,” said Rose.

“And so we would move our registered headquarters in the event of independence to London.”

Rose added: “We are neutral on the issue of Scottish independence. It’s something for the Scottish people to decide.”

Hargreaves Lansdown equity analyst Nicholas Hyett said: “NatWest is awash with capital, and unlike other UK banks is already making use of it.

“£1.2bn of government shares have been bought back this quarter, and while that still leaves the government with a majority share it hopefully starts the clock on bringing one of the last legacies of the financial crisis to a close.

“The downside given the size of the government shareholding is that dividends are likely to be modest for now, with cash instead directed towards buybacks.

“Overall these are not bad results per se, they just don’t contain much to get excited about.”

Last month, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced it has commenced criminal proceedings against National Westminster Bank Plc (NatWest) in respect of alleged offences under the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 (MLR 2007).

On Thursday, NatWest said: “On 15 March 2021, the FCA notified NatWest Group that it had commenced criminal proceedings against NWB Plc for offences under regulation 45(1) of the MLR 2007 for alleged failures to comply with regulations 8(1), 8(3) and 14(1) of the MLR 2007 between 11 November 2011 and 19 October 2016, arising from the handling of the accounts of a UK incorporated customer.

“NWB Plc will be required to attend an initial hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 26 May 2021.

“Material adverse collateral consequences, in addition to further substantial costs and the recognition of provisions, may occur as a result of these criminal proceedings.”