NatWest hires new chairman to replace Sir Howard Davies following Farage banking debacle
NatWest has named a successor to the disputed chairman Sir Howard Davies, who was fiercely criticized after the Nigel Farage unseat fiasco.
Former Mastercard, Centrica and Network Rail chairman Rick Haythornthwaite will take over when Davies steps down a little earlier than expected next year.
But the timing of the handover in April drew a furious reaction from Farage, who said Davies should have been sacked rather than allowed to finish his term.
Dame Alison Rose, chief executive of the state-backed lender, was forced to resign in July over the debacle, which began when the former UKIP leader claimed he had been stripped of his bank account because of his political views.
When it came to light that Rose had informed a BBC journalist about the matter, resulting in a misleading story, Davies initially stated that NatWest’s board of directors had “complete confidence” in her.
Former Mastercard and Centrica chairman Rick Haythornthwaite (pictured) will take over at Natwest when Sir Howard Davies steps down earlier than expected next year.
But that resolve crumbled when it became clear he had lost Downing Street’s support and Rose was ousted, raising serious questions about the president’s judgment.
Farage, who has called for a cleanup of the bank’s entire board over the scandal, said: “The idea of Sir Howard Davies being allowed to finish his term as NatWest chairman is a classic case of the establishment closing ranks.” Both Alison Rose and Howard Davies should have been fired.
And former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “As a general rule, tinkerers should be weeded out quickly.”
Davies, who is paid £775,000 a year as chairman, will have earned around £560,000 between the day Rose was sacked and his departure on April 15.
He had already said he planned to step down in July next year and a search for his successor was underway before the Farage affair broke.
However, the process took less time than expected and Davies will leave before the bank’s next annual general meeting. NatWest rejected the suggestion that timing was affected by the unbanking issue.
Haythornthwaite, who will join the board as a non-executive director in January before assuming the role of chairman, will lead the decision process on a permanent executive director.
Resignation: Sir Howard Davies was heavily criticized after Nigel Farage unbanking fiasco
Paul Thwaite was appointed for an initial 12-month term after Rose’s departure and will be among the candidates.
Haythornthwaite is already president of online grocery store Ocado, a four-day-a-month position he will keep after joining NatWest.
He will step down as AA president but will remain on its board of directors. Haythornthwaite presided over Mastercard for 14 years, though he lacks banking experience.
And his connections in Whitehall – after conducting a recent review of military pay and working conditions – could prove useful to a bank that remains 39 percent taxpayer-owned after its bailout during the financial crisis.
The city minister, Andrew Griffith, who has spoken strongly about the debanking episode, welcomed the appointment of the new chairman, describing him as “experienced and widely respected”.
Gary Greenwood, a banking analyst at Shore Capital, said: “I’m a bit surprised they don’t go with someone with more banking experience.”
“But it’s hard to find candidates who aren’t clouded by the past, so perhaps having an experienced non-banker has its attractions.”
Victoria Scholar, chief investment officer at Interactive Investor, said the new chairman and Thwaite faced a “daunting” task: helping the bank rebuild its reputation after the scandal, reduce government involvement and revitalize its share price.