RBS reports first profit in 10 years

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Media captionRBS profit ‘very symbolic’ says RBS chief executive Ross McEwan

Royal Bank of Scotland has returned to profit for the first time in a decade as it continues its recovery.

Chief executive Ross McEwan told the BBC it was “a really symbolic moment.”

The bank, which is majority-owned by the taxpayer, made an annual profit of £752m compared with a £6.95bn loss the year before.

RBS reports first profit in 10 years
RBS reports first profit in 10 years

RBS still faces a potentially massive fine from the US Department of Justice over the sale of financial products linked to risky mortgages.

The bank had expected to settle the case in 2017, but is now hoping it will reach an agreement this year.

RBS set aside an extra £492m for US litigation, taking the total set aside for US court action around the sale of those products to £3.2bn.

The issue complicates government plans to start selling down its stake in RBS.

“We have been constantly hit with the sins of the past with conduct and litigation issues and I’ve been heavily restructuring the business to bring it back to the UK,” Mr McEwan said.

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The bank, which is 71%-owned by the taxpayer, has spent the past decade restructuring itself.

Mr McEwan said that 10 years ago RBS was the largest bank in the world, with a balance sheet of £2.2 trillion. This has now sunk to about £750bn.

“We’ve been restructuring the bank to being a really good UK/Republic of Ireland business,” he told the BBC.

“It’s taken time but it’s also taken a lot of cost to come out of countries and businesses that we just didn’t want to be in.

“We are now operating in 12 countries as opposed to what was 38, so very focused on the UK.”

For the first time, RBS published the average pay gap between men and women in the bank, which it said was at 37.2%.

“Our gender pay gap reflects an under-representation of women at senior levels,” the bank said in its annual report. “That is not a satisfactory position and we know that we still have much to do to narrow the gap.”

Share sale?

The government would like to start selling-off its shareholding this year, but the timing depends on RBS settling the legal battle with US authorities.

The prospect of a lot more RBS shares coming on the market is depressing the share price at the moment.

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “With the price now standing at around half of the government’s breakeven point, the taxpayer’s still going to come out of this nursing a significant loss.”

RBS shares dropped more than 4% to about 269p on Friday.

Critical report

On Tuesday, after months of wrangling, MPs released a report by regulators into the mistreatment of small business customers by the bank.

Mr McEwan said the report “did make for really tough reading”.

“We did not get it right for customers at the time they needed us when their businesses were struggling,” he said.

“We just didn’t look after them well enough”.

The bank has now put in place a complaints process overseen by a former high court judge, Mr McEwan added.

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