NatWest chair: UK govt stake sale will end ‘sorry tale’

NatWest-RBS HQ at Gogarburn in Edinburgh

NatWest chair Rick Haythornthwaite said on Tuesday the British government’s plans to sell its remaining stake in NatWest — the bank formerly known as Royal Bank of Scotland — will end a “sorry tale” for both the UK and the company.

Haythornthwaite told the bank’s AGM in Edinburgh the sale will also boost those who feel state support has held back NatWest.

“I think there’s a perception there is more intervention from His Majesty’s Treasury than there actually is,” said Haythornthwaite.

“I think removing that overhang is of value …

“It also brings to an end what is a sorry tale for the UK and a sorry tale for the bank.”

Rick Haythornthwaite

UK Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt has committed to return NatWest to full private ownership by the end of 2026 and has outlined plans to sell discounted shares to the general public.

“This is a moment when we can think about constructing the future,” Haythornthwaite told shareholders in his first meeting as chair after succeeding Howard Davies.

The UK government bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland for about £45 billion during the 2008-9 financial crisis. It has since cut its stake from around 84% to below 29%.

Haythornthwaite added: “In 2008, the government stepped in to save the financial system from collapse. Today we have strong, well performing banks, which are supporting customers and contributing positively to the British economy.

“Government ownership of NatWest now stands below 29%, having started the year at almost 38%.

“And we are pleased that the government remains committed to fully exiting its NatWest shareholding by 2025 to 2026.

“This is a shared ambition which we believe is in the best interests of the bank and our shareholders. Good progress has been made in recent months and I am confident that this leadership team will see the return to full private ownership.

“The Chancellor used his Spring Budget last month to confirm the government’s intention to sell part of its shareholding to retail investors.

“He said the sale would take place this summer at the earliest, subject to supportive market conditions.

“And we will work closely with UKGI and His Majesty’s Treasury if the government does decide to launch a retail campaign.”