RBS CEO urges customer focus as break-up verdict looms

LONDON Fri Oct 18, 2013 8:14am EDT

A woman is seen through scaffolding as she walks past a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland in London September 17, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

A woman is seen through scaffolding as she walks past a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland in London September 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

LONDON (Reuters) - Royal Bank of Scotland's (RBS.L) Chief Executive Ross McEwan has urged staff to focus on customers in the face of uncertainty over whether Britain's finance ministry will order a break-up of the state-backed lender.

McEwan said the bank's future will not be determined by whether it operates in particular areas or where it's bad loans are held, but by how it treats its customers, in a memo to staff seen by Reuters.

"Let's address the legitimate concerns shareholders and other stakeholders have. And then let's get on with building a great bank for customers," McEwan said.

Britain's finance ministry, aided by investment bank Rothschild, is close to concluding a review into whether RBS, 81 percent owned by taxpayers, should be made to hive off its soured assets into a separate legal entity.

It is expected to make its findings public in the coming weeks, according to industry and political sources.

The bank is considering creating its own internal "bad bank" to house more of its problem loans even if a formal break-up is rejected, industry sources have told Reuters.

"The future of this company is about how good a job we do for our customers, including those who are having difficulty repaying their loans...We are taking responsibility for resolving these debates," McEwan said in the memo.

McEwan took up the chief executive's reins at the start of October, having ran RBS's retail business for a year. He has pledged to return customers to the top of the bank's agenda after his predecessor Stephen Hester spent four years repairing its battered balance sheet.

(Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Steve Slater and Sinead Cruise)