OPINION: RBS paying the price for lack of PR

Last October, one of our leading investment bankers drew my attention to the Royal Bank of Scotland share price, which had fallen so far it was yielding something over eight per cent.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

The only possible explanation for it being so low, he said, was that the company needed a massive capital injection and the market feared that it would not be forthcoming. This was more than six months ago.

Shortly afterwards at a lunch in the City the topic again came up and the reaction was telling. 'We will find out if Goodwin is as clever as he thinks he is,' said one of the assembled throng. 'If he is that clever, then the share price is wrong and he will get through it.

If he is not that clever, and the share price is right, then he is in deep trouble and will get a rough reception when he comes and asks us to help him out of it.'

It is pretty obvious from this that Sir Fred Goodwin has been unusually successful at making enemies. Most chief executives have an up and down relationship with the City, for the providers of finance are almost always only fair-weather friends. But the animosity felt towards Goodwin is in a different league.

Given that everyone was aware of this deep fissure why did no-one at RBS try to improve things? It was obvious from the share price that the bank's capital ratios were feeling the strain as the credit crunch, and last year's ambitious purchase of a slice of Dutch Bank ABN Amro, took their toll.

This was a situation crying out for some serious reputation management. Time should have been taken to repair Goodwin's relations with the City analysts and to hold a meaningful dialogue with the investing institutions.

He could also have been more constructive with the press. Instead he saw the relationship as a tap he would turn on when he was thirsty but otherwise not think about.

None of this happened, presumably because Goodwin saw no need for it to happen. He is on record as saying that he sees most such activity as getting in the way of his running the bank.

But now a lot of shareholders say they will only cough up more money if Goodwin goes. That is a high price to pay for refusing to indulge in a charm offensive.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard.

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