RBS set to scale back its investment arm

Royal Bank of Scotland will hand restructuring chief Rory Cullinan the task of overseeing another major scaling back of its investment bank, sources told Reuters, allowing it to focus on lending to British households and businesses.

Mr Cullinan will take over responsibility for RBS’s investment bank from Donald Workman, currently executive chairman for corporate and institutional banking.

Mr Cullinan already runs RBS’s internal ‘bad bank’ and is overseeing the sale of its US business Citizens and its Williams & Glynn business in Britain. The bank, 79%-owned by the UK government, is under pressure from MPs to do more to support the domestic economy.

Chief executive Ross McEwan said last year that he wanted to increase the proportion of assets that RBS holds in Britain to 80% of its global business from 60% at present.

Mr Cullinan was appointed to run RBS’s ‘bad bank’ in December 2013. He is on track to sell or wind down the majority of the £38bn ($51.8bn) of unwanted assets placed within it by the end of 2015, a year ahead of schedule and his success in that role has persuaded Mr McEwan to enlarge his remit.

“He’s been phenomenal,” said Bernstein analyst Chirantan Barua. “Given his experience and what he’s delivered, I would not be surprised at all that Ross gives him something more. What is next in line in terms of cutting is the investment bank.”

The bank hopes slimming down and simplifying its business will enable it to bolster its capital and generate better returns, making it more attractive to investors and easier for the government to return to private ownership.

RBS’s investment bank was built into one of the biggest in the world by former chief executive Fred Goodwin in the years before the financial crisis, and it grew further by the takeover of Dutch bank ABN AMRO in 2007.

Its investment bank had more than 20,000 staff and risk-weighted assets of £278bn at the end of 2008, almost half of RBS’s balance sheet that it has dramatically shrunk in the last six years.

RBS is expected to announce that it will significantly scale back its operations in Asia leaving about 200 staff in the region, down from 2,800 at the end of last year, when it unveils full-year figures tomorrow, the sources said.

Mr Cullinan will also take responsibility for managing RBS’s exit from several European markets, the sources said. RBS has been in Asia Pacific since the 1820s and has offices in 10 countries in the region. Singapore is one of its global operational hubs.

RBS, which is also expected to announce the appointed of ex-financial regulator Howard Davies as its new chairman tomorrow, is set to report an underlying pretax profit of about £4.1bn, according to a Reuters poll.

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