WHEN BRUCE VAN SAUN took the top finance job at Royal Bank of Scotland in 2009, the bank was in dire straits. RBS reportedly had only days to go before total insolvency in 2008, but, along with Lloyds, was bailed out to the tune of £20bn and effectively privatised by the UK government.
New CEO Stephen Hester, parachuted in by the government to lead the recovery, went so far as to spell out the mammoth task that awaited him. Van Saun took the job following a telephone conversation with Hester which, he says, went something like: “How would you like to join me on the biggest turnaround on the planet?”
With the turnaround on track and much of the restructuring job complete, Wall Street veteran Van Saun is reportedly set to return to the US as head of the bank’s American subsidiary Citizens ahead of a planned flotation.
The state-backed bank is thought to have lined up Nathan Bostock, the former FD of Abbey National, as Van Saun’s successor. The appointment could be announced within weeks, though it may not take effect until later in the year, said the Financial Times, which first reported the changes.
RBS declined to comment.
In February, RBS revealed plans to float a 25% stake in Citizens within the next two years. Van Saun should be well suited to handling the IPO, having won plaudits for the way he handled the flotation of Direct Line, RBS’ insurance arm, in October last year.
Four years into the recovery plan – and with 2013 expected to be the last big year of restructuring – this may be a natural break point for Van Saun, who joined the bank after 25 years on Wall Street. But it has not been plain sailing. RBS has been beset by losses during the last four years, while controversy and public opprobrium continues to dog the bank. Van Saun is not immune to the constant public scrutiny of RBS.
In an interview with Financial Director last year, Van Saun said he believed the risk in taking a post at the bank would be viewed positively.
“There’s no certainties in life, but it makes it harder to be constantly vilified. For the guys in the white suits, or the shining armour, to come in and have to take the brickbats and all the mud that’s thrown at the company doesn’t always feel fair because we’re here to try to fix things,” Van Saun said.
“You have to put that aside and take comfort from the fact that you’re doing the right things and the people who really know – the investors, research analysts, the FSA, the Bank of England – they know that we’re making progress and we’re focused on what the really important things are.”
As the spotlight shifts to the post-restructured RBS, it is believed Nathan Bostock, who has led the bank’s risk and restructuring division since 2009, is being lined up for RBS’ top finance role.
Bostock started his career managing bank risk at Chase Manhattan, serving as head of risk analysis and finance, treasury and interest rate derivatives (Europe) from 1988 to 1992. After a nine-year stint as director of group risk management and chief operating officer, treasury and capital markets at RBS, he joined Santander UK in 2001 as COO of Abbey National Treasury Services with responsibility for finance, market risk and operations.
Returning to RBS in 2009, Bostock had planned to join Lloyds Banking Group as head of wholesale banking in 2011, but abandoned the move. People close to the situation told the FT Bostock was promised a more senior role at RBS, which included the prospect of replacing Van Saun. A prospect that many believe will now be fulfilled.