* UKFI manages Britain’s stakes in RBS, Lloyds
* UK government keen to start selling shares by 2015
* O‘Neil’s contacts and experience will be missed, say analysts
* O‘Neil will take up BofA Merrill Lynch role
By Matt Scuffham
LONDON, April 25 (Reuters) - The banker tasked with selling Britain’s stakes in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group quit on Thursday, throwing into question the government’s aim to start offloading the shares before 2015.
Jim O‘Neil is leaving after three years at UK Financial Investments (UKFI), which was set up to manage and eventually sell the bank stakes after Britain pumped 66 billion pounds ($101 billion) into both lenders to keep them afloat during the 2008 financial crisis.
The government is keen to start selling shares and recovering taxpayers’ money before the next general election in 2015. O‘Neil had forged a positive relationship with executives at both banks over the past three years, according to industry sources, and analysts said his experience and background in equity capital markets would be missed.
“It’s always difficult when you lose somebody who is as experienced and senior as he is,” said Shore Capital analyst Gary Greenwood.
UKFI said it will set about recruiting a new chief executive to replace O‘Neil and manage the government’s 81 percent shareholding in Royal Bank of Scotland and 39 percent stake in Lloyds Banking Group.
A sale of shares in Lloyds is seen as more realistic by analysts and hopes were raised when they hit a near-two year high of 56 pence in March, closing in on the 61 pence level which the government regards as its break-even price.
An RBS sale is viewed as less likely although the bank has said it also wants to be in a position for the government to start selling by 2015.
UKFI is expected to sell down its holdings over several years through a string of transactions, depending on investor appetite and the value of the shares.
O‘Neil will take up a position at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where he worked for 17 years until 2010, as co-head of its global financial institutions group.
In a separate statement, BofA Merrill Lynch said O‘Neil will partner with Bill Egan to drive the growth of its investment banking business for financial institutions around the world. Egan will be based in New York with O‘Neil staying in London. They will both report to Christian Meissner, head of global corporate and investment banking, it said.