07 February 2024

NatWest share sale could be in June at the ‘very earliest’, Government group says

07 February 2024

The sale of shares in NatWest to everyday investors could happen as soon as June, a Government-owned company has said.

The retail offer was first announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt during his autumn statement last year, as the Government leaps forward in its efforts to fully offload its stake in the bank.

UK Government Investments (UKGI), which is owned by the Treasury, said it is currently in the process of working with advisers to carve up a plan for the share sale.

Holger Vieten, who is leading the work for the organisation, told a group of MPs: “At this point, we have been asked by the Chancellor to explore a retail offer… and we are in the development and design stage. We are looking at various options as to how that could be implemented.”

He said advisers had been brought on board to help, including Freshfields to give legal advice, Barclays as retail co-ordinators and Goldman Sachs as the overall privatisation strategy advisers.

Mr Vieten stressed that there is no exact date for when the sale will occur but revealed that it could be in the summer at the “very earliest”.

Pushed to give a closer timeline, he agreed that that could mean June.

Mr Hunt indicated in November that the potential sale would happen in the coming year.

The UK Government bailed out NatWest Group, previously known as Royal Bank of Scotland, with nearly £46 billion during the 2008 financial crisis, landing it – and therefore taxpayers – with a stake in the bank.

It has gradually been whittling down this shareholding from a peak of 84% in 2009, and now owns less than 35%, which is worth about £7 billion.

But it wants to fully offload its shareholding and return the bank to private ownership by 2025 to 2026, provided the conditions are right and that selling shares offers value for money.

The move has also been presented as a way to get people saving and investing, with Mr Hunt referring to the “Tell Sid” advertising campaign of the 1980s, which encouraged people to buy shares in state-owned businesses.

Mr Vieten’s remarks came during a session with the Treasury Committee – a group of cross-party MPs whose job it is to scrutinise the work of the Treasury.

The committee also asked the UKGI what it thought about the current leadership structure of NatWest.

Former boss Dame Alison Rose resigned in July in the fallout of the debanking scandal fronted by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who accused the bank of unfairly closing his account with Coutts, which is a subsidiary of the group.

Dame Alison stepped down after admitting to a “serious error of judgement” in discussing Mr Farage’s relationship with Coutts with a BBC journalist.

Paul Thwaite stepped in as chief executive on an interim basis, but NatWest has yet to announce who will be appointed to the role permanently.

The UKGI’s chief executive, Charles Donald, said NatWest needs to be clearer about its management plans ahead of selling shares to retail investors.

He said: “I think they need to provide clarity to the market on their proposals around either confirming the interim chief executive or a process around appointing a permanent chief executive, for the market to be comfortable.”

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