Royal Bank of Scotland to cut costs by £1bn

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is preparing to cut more than €1.17bn (£1bn) of annual operating costs by eliminating jobs and closing branches as it seeks to bolster profitability, said a person with knowledge of the plans.

While the Edinburgh-based lender probably won’t reveal a headline figure for role reductions, senior executives have determined RBS has more staff than it requires and will cut more jobs, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the details are private.

RBS has said it will unveil fresh plans to meet profit targets alongside annual results on February 24.

The Sunday Times, citing an analyst it didn’t identify, said RBS needed to cut 15,000 jobs.

An RBS spokeswoman, who declined to comment on the plans, said of the Times story: “We do not recognise this report.”

Chief executive Ross McEwan’s plan to lower the bank’s cost-to-income ratio, a key measure of profitability, to below 50% by 2020 was blown off-course after the Bank of England cut interest rates last year.

He probably needs remove about €1.17bn of annual expenses to reach his target, analysts at UBS led by Jason Napier wrote in a note to clients last month.

“Given all the restructuring RBS has already undergone, such a change from here would be challenging and expensive to deliver,” wrote Mr Napier, who has a neutral rating on shares.

RBS shares climbed 1.5% in London, meaning the shares are up 3.5% this year, after dropping 26% in 2016.

RBS’s cuts may need to exceed €1.17bn, the person said. David Lock, an analyst at Deutsche Bank, wrote in a note this month that he expects RBS to target a total cost base of €8.2bn by 2020, which would necessitate cutting €1.7bn to €1.9bn of expenses.

The lender will probably cut administrative roles and eliminate staff for tasks such as opening bank accounts, the person added.

While RBS will look to cut costs, the lender will also consider investing in upgrading its Information Technology systems to improve efficiency and lower expenses, the person said.

While the plan is aimed at reducing the long-term cost base, it could boost expenses in the near term.

RBS spent £4.4bn in the past two years in its effort to cut ongoing costs by £1.8bn, Mr Napier wrote.

The new effort could have the effect of reducing any excess capital that could otherwise be used for buybacks and dividends, he said.

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