National Westminster Bank Plc, commonly known as NatWest, is the largest retail and commercial bank in the United Kingdom and has been part of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc since 2000. The Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) is ranked as the second largest bank in the world by assets. It was established in 1968 by the merger of National Provincial Bank (established 1833 as National Provincial Bank of England) and Westminster Bank (established 1834 as London County and Westminster Bank). Traditionally considered one of the Big Four clearing banks, NatWest has a large network of 1,600 branches and 3,400 cash machines across Great Britain and offers 24-hour Actionline telephone and online banking services. Today it has more than 7.5 million personal customers and 850,000 small business accounts. In Northern Ireland it operates through its Ulster Bank subsidiary.
The bank can trace its roots back to 1650 with the foundation of Smith's of Nottingham. The creation of the modern bank was announced in 1968 and National Westminster Bank Limited commenced trading on 1 January 1970, after the statutory process of integration had been completed in 1969. The famous three arrowheads symbol was adopted as the new bank's logo; said either to symbolise circulation of money in the financial system or the bank's three constituents, National Provincial, Westminster, and District Bank (established 1829), the latter being taken over by National Provincial Bank in 1962 and allowed to operate under its own name until the formation of National Westminster Bank. The District, National Provincial, and Westminster Bank were fully integrated in the new firm's structure, while Coutts & Co. private bankers (a 1920 National Provincial acquisition, established 1692), Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland (a 1917 Westminster acquisition, established 1836) and the Isle of Man Bank (a 1961 National Provincial acquisition, established 1865) continued as separate operations. Westminster Foreign Bank (established 1913) was restyled International Westminster Bank in 1973. Duncan Stirling, outgoing chairman of Westminster Bank, became first chairman of the fifth largest bank in the world. In 1969 David Robarts, former chairman of National Provincial, assumed Stirling's position. In 1975 it was one of the first London banks to open a representative office in Scotland. It was a founder member of the Joint Credit Card Company (with Lloyds Bank, Midland Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland) which launched the Access credit card (now MasterCard) in 1972 and in 1976 it introduced the Servicetill cash machine. The same banks (although this time not including Lloyds) were later responsible for the introduction of the Switch debit card (later branded Maestro) in 1988.
Deregulation in the 1980s, culminating in the Big Bang in 1986, also encouraged the bank to enter the securities business. County Bank, its merchant banking subsidiary formed in 1965, acquired various stockbroking and jobbing firms to create the investment banking arm County NatWest. National Westminster Home Loans was established in 1980 and other initiatives included the launch of the Piggy Account for children in 1983, the Credit Zone, a flexible overdraft facility on which customers only pay interest (now commonplace, this so-called pink debt was innovative when launched) and the development of the Mondex electronic purse (later sold to MasterCard Worldwide) in 1990. The Action Bank advertising campaign spearheaded a new marketing-led approach to business development. Under the direction of Robin Leigh-Pemberton, later Lord Kingsdown, who became chairman in 1977, the bank also expanded internationally, forming National Westminster Bancorp in the United States of America with a network of 340 branches across two states, National Westminster Bank of Canada, NatWest Australia Bank and opening branches on the European continent and in the Far East. In 1982, the Frankfurt office of International Westminster Bank was merged with Global Bank AG to form Deutsche Westminster Bank and in 1988, National Westminster Bank SA was incorporated and took over the bank's six branches in France and Monaco. In 1989, International Westminster Bank was merged into National Westminster Bank by Act of Parliament as there was no longer any advantage in operating separately.
Completed in 1980, the bank built the iconic National Westminster Tower in London to serve as its international headquarters. At a height of 600 feet (183 m) it was the tallest building in the UK until the topping-out of Canary Wharf Tower 10 years later, its footprint in the shape of the bank's logo. Also worthy of note is National Westminster House in Birmingham, no longer owned by the bank, the building was most recently sold to British Land.
The bank's expansion strategy hit trouble with the stock market crash of 1987 and involvement in the financial scandal surrounding the collapse of Blue Arrow. The Department of Trade and Industry report on the affair was critical of the bank's management and resulted in the resignation of several members of the board, including then chairman Lord Boardman. Later, the bank would divest its overseas subsidiaries. The North American operations were sold to Fleet Bank and Hongkong Bank of Canada respectively. Thereafter the bank concentrated on its core domestic business as the restyled NatWest Group, reflecting its modern positioning as a portfolio of businesses. In 1993, the NatWest Tower was devastated by a Provisional IRA bomb and the bank vacated the building, subsequently selling it. Then, in 1997, NatWest Markets, the corporate and investment banking arm formed in 1992, revealed a £50m loss had been discovered, escalating to £90.5m after further investigations. Investor and shareholder confidence was so badly shaken that the Bank of England had to instruct the board of directors to resist calls for the resignation of its most senior executives in an effort to draw a line under the affair. The bank's internal controls and risk management were severely criticised in 2000 and its aggressive push into investment banking questioned, after a lengthy investigation by the Securities and Futures Authority. The bank's move into complicated derivative products that it did not fully understand seemed to indicate poor management. By the end of 1997 parts of NatWest Markets had been sold, others becoming Greenwich NatWest in 1998.
In 1999, the chairman, Lord Alexander of Weedon, announced a merger with Legal & General in a friendly £10.7bn deal, the first between a bank and an insurance company in UK history. The move received a poor reception in the London financial markets and NatWest's share price fell substantially. Seen as a driver of the ill-advised investment banking expansion, Derek Wanless was forced to resign as chief executive following the appointment of Sir David Rowland (who became executive chairman). Also in 1999, in response to the weakened NatWest share value, the Governor and Company of the Bank of Scotland began a hostile takeover bid for the bank, an audacious move for the much smaller Scottish bank. The Bank of Scotland's aim was to break-up the NatWest Group and dispose of its non-retail assets. NatWest was forced to abandon its merger, but refused to agree to a takeover by a rival bank. The Royal Bank of Scotland tabled another hostile offer and trumped the Bank of Scotland with a £21bn bid. The takeover of NatWest in early 2000 was the biggest in UK history. National Westminster Bank, once Britain's most profitable bank, was delisted from the London Stock Exchange and became, with its subsidiaries, component parts of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group. The outcome of this bitter struggle set the tone for a round of consolidation in the financial sector as it prepared for a new age of fierce global competition. The Royal Bank of Scotland Group became the second largest bank in the UK and Europe (after HSBC) and the fifth largest in the world by market capitalisation. According to Forbes Global 2000, it was the then 13th largest company in the world. While NatWest was retained as a distinct brand with its own banking licence, many back office functions were merged with those of the Royal Bank leading to over 18,000 job losses.
In 2008, it was announced that HM Government would take a stake of up to 58% in the Royal Bank of Scotland in a move aimed at recapitalising the Group. HM Treasury subscribed for £5 billion in preference shares and underwrote the issuance of £15bn of new ordinary shares offered to RBS shareholders and new institutional shareholders at the fixed price of 65.5p. As a consequence of the mismanagement which necessitated this rescue, the chief executive, Sir Fred Goodwin (who secured the takeover of NatWest), offered his resignation which was duly accepted. Chairman, Sir Tom McKillop, also confirmed he would stand down from that role when his contract expired in 2009. Goodwin was replaced by Stephen Hester, previously chief executive of British Land. Subsequently, in 2009, it was announced that all 311 Royal Bank branches in England and Wales (until 1985, Williams & Glyn's Bank) together with the seven NatWest branches in Scotland were to be divested by the Group to comply with European Union state aid requirements. The process could take up to four years to complete. In August 2010, it was announced that the branch divestment would be to Santander UK, along with 1.8 million personal customers and 244,000 SME customers.
The Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc operates internationally through its two principal subsidiaries, the Royal Bank (in Scotland) and NatWest (in England and Wales). The NatWest group of companies comprises National Westminster Bank Plc and its subsidiary and associated undertakings. The principal subsidiary undertakings of the bank today are:
- Coutts & Co., part of RBS Group Wealth Management, incorporating RBS Coutts Bank (formerly Coutts Bank von Ernst) Ltd. trading as RBS Coutts International in Switzerland;
- RBS Securities Inc., previously Greenwich Capital Markets Inc., broker-dealer, trading as RBS Greenwich Capital (formerly Greenwich NatWest) in the US; and
- Ulster Bank Limited, incorporating, from 2001, Ulster Bank Ireland Ltd. in the Republic of Ireland.
Until 2003 National Westminster Bank was a wholly owned subsidiary of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group, now the ultimate holding company. In January 2003 ownership of the bank's entire issued ordinary share capital was transferred from the ultimate holding company to The Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, as holding company. At that time the entire issued share capital of Lombard North Central Plc was transferred by the bank to the holding company. Ownership of National Westminster Home Loans Limited was passed to the holding company in December 2005. In December 2000 the bank transferred National Westminster Life Assurance Limited to RBS Life Investments Limited, effectively establishing the business as a joint venture between the Group and Norwich Union.
The Royal Bank of Scotland Group comprises the ultimate holding company and its subsidiary and associated undertakings. The Group is structured into the following main operating areas:
* Retail Markets, providing a broad range of retail services across different brands and channels to personal and small business customers;
* Corporate Markets, a leading banking partner to UK commercial customers and major corporations and governmental institutions around the world, providing an extensive range of debt, risk and investment services;
* RBS Insurance, the second-largest general insurer in the UK, with brands including Direct Line, Churchill and Green Flag;
* Ulster Bank Group, incorporating the former First Active Plc in the Republic of Ireland; and
* Citizens Financial Group, which provides retail and corporate banking services across 13 states in the northeastern and midwestern US, with a retail and commercial presence in more than 30 other states.
* Business Services, a division dealing with administrative operations, managing group technology, procurement and property, in tandem with the other divisions of RBS Group.
NatWest provide a full range of banking and insurance services to personal, business and commercial customers, including the first dedicated bank account in Britain to be delivered and supported entirely in the Polish language. In 2005 it announced the reintroduction of a mobile banking service, providing banking facilities to remote communities in Cornwall. The bank has won Your Mortgage Magazine's Best Bank for Mortgages award 13 times in the last 17 years, more than any other lender.
In 2006 The Royal Bank of Scotland Group undertook the first trial of PayPass contactless debit and credit cards in Europe. These can be used to pay for purchases under £10 by tapping an enabled card on the retailer's terminal. In an effort to enhance security, hand-held devices for use with a card to authorise online banking transactions were introduced in 2007. These card readers do not retain personal information but verify numbers during a transaction. From autumn 2009, NatWest and RBS are migrating debit cards from Maestro and Solo to Visa Debit. The bank participates fully in the Faster Payments Service, an initiative to speed up certain payments, launched in 2008. Established in 1989, Streamline is the leading provider of merchant accounts in Europe, giving businesses the ability to accept credit and debit card payments and handling around half of all such transactions. In 2009 it was merged into RBS WorldPay.
The bank is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority, a member of the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, the Association for Payment Clearing Services and of the British Bankers' Association; it subscribes to the Banking Code and Business Banking Code. Mortgages, available in England, Scotland and Wales only, are provided by National Westminster Home Loans Limited, a member of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the NatWest One account is a secured personal account with the Royal Bank of Scotland Plc. The Spanish Mortgage is provided by Adam and Company Plc, a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland, trading as NatWest. NatWest Insurance Services is a trading name of RBS Business Insurance Services Limited, acting as intermediary and broker for general insurance. Life Protector and Guaranteed Bond products are provided by National Westminster Life Assurance Limited. The Royal Bank of Scotland International Limited trading as NatWest operates branches in Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar. Share dealing services are provided by NatWest Stockbrokers Limited, which is a member of the London Stock Exchange and PLUS. NatWest Stockbrokers is operated by a joint venture between The Royal Bank of Scotland Group and the Toronto-Dominion Bank, TD Waterhouse Investor Services (Europe) Limited. In 2010, RBS Intermediary Partners was re-branded NatWest Intermediary Solutions.