As chairman and CEO of RBS Citizens Financial Group since Oct. 1, Bruce Van Saun has the eyes of the international financial community on him, with industry analysts studying his statements and actions for clues as he prepares for the bank’s announced 25 percent IPO, now targeted for the fourth quarter of 2014.
Van Saun arrives in the United States after four years in the United Kingdom helping the Royal Bank of Scotland dig out of a near collapse, the resulting $71 billion government bailout and political pressure to return taxpayer money.
With 5,400 RBS Citizens employees in Rhode Island, Van Saun – a man the British newspaper The Telegraph labeled “a heavyweight American banker” – will be watched carefully by the region as well.
PBN: Since you moved into your new position as CEO of RBS Citizens, based in Providence, what’s been your first order of business?
VAN SAUN: I’ve been spending a lot of time with our colleagues and customers, talking to them about what we’re doing really well and also what areas we have opportunities to do better in. The first thing I want to do is to ensure that we’re making progress toward becoming a top-performing regional bank. The key to that is going to be our relationship with our customers. I think you win in banking if you’re offering a distinctive and differentiated customer proposition. … Citizens’ culture, historically, has been focused on the three Cs – customers, colleagues and community. So I think we have a good base to build on. But it’s clearly very competitive out there, and I want to do an assessment of that. Beyond that, we’re also obviously focused on this plan toward an IPO and making sure I understand where we have some performance issues and gaps.
PBN: What’s the target date for the IPO?
VAN SAUN: We’re looking at Q1 of 2015 as the initial date, but recently I’ve been saying in some of my public remarks that I think we can bring that forward to Q4 of ’14. So we’re currently building our plan toward that – the fourth quarter of 2014.
PBN: Since the British government bailed out the parent company, the Royal Bank of Scotland, with $71 billion in 2008, there’s been reported political pressure from elected officials in the U.K. to get the bank to return taxpayers’ money. How does this pressure affect RBS’ commitment to Citizens Bank?
VAN SAUN: I think the IPO is somewhat of a response there. It’s a decent-size holding for RBS to own Citizens Bank, in terms of allocated capital. I think the plan that we announced to take roughly 25 percent of Citizens public does help to generate some value and provide some liquidity for the asset. On the broader question of the political pressure, RBS has been a huge rescue effort, and it’s taken a fair amount of time to get the bank back to good health. One of the things I’m proud about, having been over there, is that we have the bank safe and sound again. But it’s still going to take some time before the government will be able to divest itself of that stake. It’s a very big stake, and I think that stock will be sold down over a number of years. We can do our part by improving the performance of Citizens, taking it public and getting some value for the asset. I think that will be good for RBS. From Citizens’ standpoint, it’s also quite good. The public listing has numerous positives for us. There’s an increase in our brand visibility. In terms of attracting and retaining talent, to have our own stock, our own currency, is a positive. Eventually, it creates some opportunities for us in terms of using that currency down the road.