RBS invites comment

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On June 12, RBS announced the impending departure of chief executive Stephen Hester almost five years after he took on the job of restructuring a bank that had collapsed into 82% state ownership.

The press release on the bank’s website, mimicking news items on conventional wire services and daily newspaper sites, invites comment beneath the official platitudes. Is this a new approach?

“Oh yes, this place has got very into its message walls,” one RBS banker tells Euromoney. “Whenever we’re at a business meeting or off-site or something we’re now all being told to post things like, ‘Oh I really liked so and so’s speech. It was very interesting. What did you all think?’” The banker rolls his eyes.

As the bank’s PR people might well have done at the weirdly religious tone of some of the comments being posted. “Thanking the Lord that Stephen has saved the Royal Bank of Scotland from going under,” was one of the first comments. “May the Lord continue to be with you in the Future.” Another offered: “I hope he’s not going to be replaced by the Archbishop of Canterbury or Lord Lawson.”

What’s now run of the mill under a news piece still looks a bit odd under an official press release. Will it take off? One commentator certainly appeared to get it. “Seems like he doesn’t agree with something that the government may want to bring in – maybe splitting the bank up?”

The re-emergence of that idea was subsequently confirmed by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and by chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne in his Mansion House speech. Maybe press releases could be a good venue, then, to debate bank strategy.

Or maybe not. “Oh you can’t say what you actually think,” points out the RBS banker. “Otherwise you might get into real trouble.”