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Getting back to the Abbey habit

Santander's retail banking specialists' biggest challenge to date will be to turn around the fortunes of Abbey. Can the Spanish bank's model be successfully applied to the highly competitive UK market?

Botín: the man and his mission | The masters of retail banking  | Awards for excellence - Best bank  WHEN FRANCISCO GÓMEZ-ROLDAN arrived at Abbey as chief executive in November 2004, he knew exactly what he had to do. "Our first priorities are to provide the best service quality and be the most efficient bank in the UK. That is what makes you the number one in retail banking," he says.

It's a simple statement that masks the huge challenge facing Gómez-Roldan and his team. Santander executives say that Abbey National had been under-managed by its previous management team, led by Ian Harley, during the late 1990s and the early part of this decade. Attempts to diversify into areas such as wholesale banking through its Abbey National Treasury Services arm had harmed the banks' profits in their own right, but they also took away focus and profitability from Abbey's core business of retail banking.

Abbey had quickly fallen from being one of the UK's most profitable companies to a loss-making target for acquisition. The bank lost almost $3 billion in two years in 2002 and 2003, before returning to profit in 2004 after a radical restructuring.

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