News Column

Lloyds returns to 'normality' amid job cuts and pound(s)1.8bn provision

February 14, 2014

Ian McConnell; Ian McConnell

ANTONIO Horta-Osorio has declared Lloyds Banking Group is now back to "normal". It was a most interesting use of the word "normal" by the chief executive of Lloyds, as he presented the bank's 2013 results yesterday.

Only last week, the taxpayer-backed Lloyds revealed it had taken a fresh pound(s)1.8 billion provision in the fourth quarter of last year for compensation relating to "legacy" payment protection insurance (PPI) business. It also made a further provision of pound(s)130m relating to the sale of interest rate hedging products to "certain small and medium-sized businesses".

And Mr Horta-Osorio continues to slash jobs at Bank of Scotland owner Lloyds, so his staff might not be feeling things are all that normal. On January 28, Lloyds announced another 1080 job cuts, the latest phase of a huge cost-reduction plan unveiled by Mr Horta- Osorio in 2011.

Lloyds' accounts show staff numbers, on a full-time equivalent basis, fell from 92,788 in 2012 to 88,977 in 2013.

Meanwhile, the business community continues to highlight difficulties in obtaining funding, on palatable terms, from the UK banks in general. So, while there may have been some progress, things do not appear to be back to normal on this front.

Having said all of this, maybe Mr Horta-Osorio could be forgiven for considering Lloyds to be normal, relative to the taxpayer- backed Royal Bank of Scotland.

Recently-installed RBS chief executive Ross McEwan certainly does not have his challenges to seek.

In late January, RBS announced fresh exceptional charges totalling about pound(s)3bn, in an unscheduled trading statement, described as "provisions for litigation and conduct-related matters".

These latest provisions by RBS are aimed at covering litigation related to mortgage-backed securities, and redress for customers claiming they were mis-sold PPI or interest rate hedging products.

RBS will announce its 2013 results on February 27, when Mr McEwan is also expected to unveil the results of a strategic review. The RBS chief is expected to proceed with thousands more job cuts, on top of tens of thousands already implemented by the Edinburgh-based institution.

However, putting to one side the troubles of RBS and using a pre- financial crisis meaning, many might feel that Mr Horta-Osorio is stretching the definition of the word "normal" towards and, perhaps, beyond its breaking point.

So what is normal?

The one thing that is definitely normal in the banking sector is the bonus culture. This fact was underlined yesterday with confirmation that Mr Horta-Osorio had been awarded an annual bonus of pound(s)1.7m for 2013. This will be paid in shares and deferred until 2019, but the key point is he has been awarded, and has accepted, the bonus.

His eligibility for this bonus no doubt means he met the various performance targets set for him, and Lloyds' shares did rise significantly over 2013.

But his staff and the wider public may well be asking whether Mr Horta-Osorio should have waived his right to a bonus for 2013 given the continued pain being suffered by the workforce of the part- state-owned Lloyds.

He might feel he deserves his payout, given Lloyds yesterday reported a statutory pre-tax profit of pound(s)415m for 2013, even after a full-year charge for legacy PPI business of pound(s)3.05bn. This pound(s)415m profit was a big improvement on a pound(s)606m loss, on the same basis, in 2012.

And analysts are forecasting RBS will post a 2013 loss of about pound(s)8bn, following news of its latest raft of exceptional charges.

Mr McEwan pledged, before stepping into the top job at RBS last autumn, that he would not take a bonus for the rest of 2013 or 2014. We heard last month that those who serve with him on RBS's executive committee would not take a 2013 bonus. However, you can be sure that RBS will still be paying out big bonuses to its investment bankers.

Mr McEwan declared this week that RBS would be in danger of losing some of its most skilled investment bankers if it did not pay the market bonus rates.

Barclays said this week that its total incentive awards for 2013 had climbed to pound(s)2.38bn, from pound(s)2.17bn in 2012, as it revealed that its adjusted annual pre-tax profit had fallen by 32% to pound(s)5.17bn last year. The 2013 incentive awards include pound(s)1.57bn of bonuses for the investment bankers.

Lloyds, which unlike its big rivals does not have a sizeable investment banking operation, yesterday unveiled a discretionary annual bonus pool of pound(s)395m for 2013, up from pound(s)365m in 2012.

We can take it, from all these bonus figures and Mr McEwan's message, that we are absolutely back to normal for bonuses. If you had blinked, you might have missed the period in which it wasn't business as usual on the bonus front, if there ever was such a spell.

So what would normality look like in the UK banking sector? No need for any further provisioning for compensation payouts, whether it be for PPI or interest rate hedging products, would be a start. Normality would hopefully also entail an end to the seemingly relentless job-cutting, although the banks have been making it plain they see big opportunities to cut staff as they invest in technology. A drying-up of complaints from businesses about access to finance on the right terms would be another good sign that normal service had been restored.

To be fair to Mr Horta-Osorio, he is probably making progress, although the long-term effects of such deep cost-cutting are sometimes difficult to predict. But many customers and staff would probably take issue with his bold proclamation that Lloyds is back to normal.


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Source: Herald, The (Scotland)


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