State-owned Royal Bank of Scotland has reportedly chosen Alison Rose as its next chief executive, making her the first woman to lead one of Britain’s major lenders.
Rose, who has worked at RBS for 25 years, has long been the City’s favourite to succeed outgoing boss Ross McEwan, with rumours of her leadership bid predating news of his departure in April.
Her appointment is now being considered by City regulators, including the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority, and is set to be announced in the coming weeks, according to Sky News. It comes a week after RBS’ last board meeting, where the selection process – led by chairman Howard Davies – would have been discussed.
Once confirmed, the decision means the state-owned bank will have installed two women to the lender’s most powerful executive positions in just a year, having appointed Katie Murray as its finance chief back in January.
None of RBS’s main rivals, including Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds BankingGroup, have ever appointed a woman for any of the top three boardroom positions in the male-dominated industry. However, the board of Santander’s UK division is currently chaired by Shriti Vadera. Rose, 49, will have beaten other candidates, rumoured to include HSBC’s UK boss Ian Stuart and Whitbread chief executive Alison Brittain who previously headed Lloyds Banking Group’s retail operations. Mark Bailie, RBS’ chief operating officer, has also been mentioned as a prospective candidate in recent months.
RBS did not confirm reports, saying: “The process to appoint Ross McEwan’s successor is ongoing. Our next CEO will be confirmed in due course, once an appointment has been made.”
Rose’s career at RBS began in the early 1990s, and her rapid ascent through its ranks finally landed her the job as McEwan’s deputy chief at the lender’s ring-fenced bank, NatWest Holdings, back in December.
That was on top of her existing duties as chief executive of its private and commercial banking business, where she oversaw projects like development of Mettle, its first digital-only bank for small- and medium-sized businesses.
She has not shied away from the public eye, having led a Treasury-commissioned inquiry into the barriers facing female entrepreneurs, known as the Rose Review.
The prospective chief executive also appeared in Downing Street last month to launch the Investing in Women Code, a pledge by UK lenders to boost funding for female business owners.
Her leadership will come at a turning point for the bank, which is still trying to repair its reputation following a string of scandals and its £45bn bailout at the height of the financial crisis in 2008.
Over the past decade, RBS has been plagued by claims it mis-sold toxic mortgage-backed securities at in the lead-up to the financial crash, and that it pushed small businesses towards failure in order to strip and sell their assets for profit.
But after reaching a multibillion-pound settlement with US authorities, and being given a pass by the Financial Conduct Authority over the treatment of some small business customers, Rose will be handed a relatively clean slate.
RBS, which is still 62% owned by the UK government, could be fully privatised under her watch if a government timeline to sell of its final stake by 2024 is successful. And with RBS pledging to improve customer service after languishing at the bottom of sector league tables, things are likely to improve during her tenure.