NatWest, the UK’s largest business lender, has announced that former Mastercard chairman Rick Haythornthwaite will be its next chair. The decision comes as NatWest aims to address the fallout from a dispute involving former Brexit party leader Nigel Farage. Haythornthwaite, who currently serves as the chair of groceries delivery firm Ocado, will join NatWest’s board on January 8, 2024, and assume the role of chair on April 16.
The controversy began when it was revealed that NatWest’s private bank Coutts had removed Farage as a customer due, in part, to his views. The subsequent repercussions led to the resignation of NatWest CEO Alison Rose and the head of Coutts. Chairman Howard Davies also faced investor pressure for his handling of the situation, although he had previously announced his planned retirement.
Farage criticized Davies for completing his term, describing it as “a classic case of the establishment closing ranks.” Haythornthwaite acknowledged that he would be inheriting a “very different NatWest” from his predecessor. Davies oversaw the bank’s return to majority private ownership following its state rescue during the 2008 global financial crisis.
Sky News initially reported that Haythornthwaite was being considered for the position, pending regulatory approval. Following the announcement, NatWest shares experienced a slight decline of 0.7%, compared to a 0.2% dip for the FTSE 100 index.
One of Haythornthwaite’s initial tasks will be to find a permanent replacement for Rose, who led the bank for nearly four years before stepping down in July. She admitted to a “serious error of judgment” regarding discussions about Farage’s account with a BBC reporter. In the interim, former commercial banking boss Paul Thwaite has been appointed as the CEO for a 12-month period.
Matt Britzman, an equity analyst at investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown, emphasized the importance of rebuilding trust among customers, investors, and regulators. Haythornthwaite’s extensive experience, including his 14-year tenure as chairman of Mastercard and current role at Ocado, positions him to address these concerns.
NatWest stated that Haythornthwaite will step down from several roles, including his directorship at software company Globant, although his position at Ocado was not mentioned. Ocado issued a statement acknowledging Haythornthwaite’s appointment at NatWest but did not provide further comment on his role within the company.
Additionally, Haythornthwaite previously served as chairman at Centrica, the UK’s largest energy supplier, and state-owned rail track owner Network Rail. These appointments garnered criticism at the time due to allegations of excessive pay for top executives.
NatWest confirmed that Haythornthwaite will receive an annual salary of £775,000, matching his predecessor’s compensation. The appointment of Haythornthwaite signals the bank’s commitment to addressing recent controversies and rebuilding trust among stakeholders.
More detail via Reuters here… ( Image via Reuters )