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Banking

Can Hourican dig RBS out of its hole?

Losses in RBS’s investment banking division almost brought down the entire group. Many called for it to be shut down. But John Hourican, the firm’s new head of global banking and markets, believes he is positioning a new-look business to thrive in post-credit crunch markets. Could the cause of RBS’s ills be the hope for its recovery?

John Hourican interview

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IT’S A TOUGH time to be a leader. Few would envy, for example, the tasks of politicians and regulators as they try to chart a course through catastrophic economic times.

But there aren’t many harder roles in the private sector than the one facing John Hourican. Since October, he has been tasked with running, reinventing and reigniting Royal Bank of Scotland’s global banking and markets (GBM) division.

Global banking and markets – and more specifically its credit and lending sub-divisions – was a primary cause of the largest loss in UK corporate history, at £25 billion ($37 billion), driving a once proud bank into the purgatory of majority ownership by the UK government. That stake leapt from 58% to 70% in February this year when RBS hived off £325 billion of impaired assets to the UK’s asset protection scheme.

A rabid UK mass media, looking at the losses incurred and the earnings of senior RBS staff in recent years, called for the division to be consigned to the dustbin of history. And yet Hourican decided to take on the responsibility of running what is in effect RBS’s investment bank – the most pilloried type of job in banking, at one of its most pilloried institutions.

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