BoE stress tests: all you need to know

The Bank of England has released the results of its latest round of its annual banking stress tests and its semi-annual financial stability report this morning. Used to measure the resilience of a bank’s balance sheet in adverse scenarios, the stress tests measured the impact of a severe slowdown in Chinese growth, a global recession […]

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Draghi: Eurozone will decline without vital productivity growth

It’s productivity, stupid. European Central Bank president Mario Draghi has become the latest major policymaker to warn of the long-term economic damage posed by chronically low productivity growth, as he urged eurozone governments to take action to lift growth and stoke innovation. Speaking in Madrid on Wednesday, Mr Draghi noted that productivity rises in the […]

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Asia markets tentative ahead of Opec meeting

Wednesday 2.30am GMT Overview Markets across Asia were treading cautiously on Wednesday, following mild overnight gains for Wall Street, a weakening of the US dollar and as investors turned their attention to a meeting between Opec members later today. What to watch Oil prices are in focus ahead of Wednesday’s Opec meeting in Vienna. The […]

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Banks, Financial

RBS emerges as biggest failure in tough UK bank stress tests

Royal Bank of Scotland has emerged as the biggest failure in the UK’s annual stress tests, forcing the state-controlled lender to present regulators with a new plan to bolster its capital position by at least £2bn. Barclays and Standard Chartered also failed to meet some of their minimum hurdles in the toughest stress scenario ever […]

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Barclays: life in the old dog yet

Barclays, a former basket case of British banking, is beginning to look inspiringly mediocre. The bank has failed Bank of England stress tests less resoundingly than Royal Bank of Scotland. Investors believe its assets are worth only 10 per cent less than their book value, judging from the share price. Although Barclays’s legal team have […]

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Categorized | Banks, Financial

Blackwell has keen sense for details

Posted on November 29, 2013

Lord Norman Blackwell is a boardroom veteran who is seen as down to earth with a low-key style

Lord Norman Blackwell is a boardroom veteran who is seen as down to earth with a low-key style

When he stepped down as a senior independent director at Standard Life last year, Lord Blackwell declined the invitation to give a speech at his leaving dinner. Instead he asked the board to find him a piano.

The assembled directors at Edinburgh’s swish Prestonfield hotel – plus a coterie of passing guests who crowded around the doorway – were treated to a mini-recital of Schubert and Chopin.

“It was concert pianist quality,” says Standard Life’s longtime chairman, Gerry Grimstone. “Norman really is the archetypal renaissance man.”

    It is just as well. Lord Blackwell, 61, is set next week to be reborn as the next chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, taking on the highest profile role of his career, as Britain’s biggest high-street bank prepares to return to full private sector ownership, after the humiliating part-nationalisation of 2008.

    The appointment, revealed by the Financial Times on Thursday, is expected to be rubber-stamped by the board on Monday, paving the way for Lord Blackwell to take over the Lloyds’ chairmanship from incumbent Sir Win Bischoff early next year.

    On paper at least, the former banker cum government adviser cum career non-executive, is the perfect choice. Lord Blackwell’s early career flip-flopped between stints advising government and McKinsey, the consultancy, before he moved to NatWest bank, where he became head of strategy to then chief executive Derek Wanless. Since 2000, he has held a succession of company directorships, and chairs construction business Interserve.

    Those who have worked with Lord Blackwell admit he has been an understated figure for much of his career.

    “He is low-key to the point of being boring in some people’s eyes,” says one former colleague. But most praise his style and his substance. “He’s old-fashioned in the best kind of way,” says Mr Grimstone – a trait that will mesh with the image Lloyds seeks to exude: a traditional lender that has spurned some of the racier investment banking strategies undertaken by many rivals.

    Despite being a life peer, associates say Lord Blackwell – married with five grown-up children – is very down-to-earth, living with his family in an unremarkable Victorian villa in Epsom.

    All those who have worked with him praise twin skills in the prospective Lloyds chairman – a keen intellect and a great diligence.

    “He’s assiduous in keeping up to date with changes in rules and regulations,” says one former colleague at KPMG. “He comes to all our seminars on international accounting standards.”

    Lord Blackwell’s style will contrast with the ebullient ways of the outgoing Sir Win. But he is expected nonetheless to gel well with António Horta-Osório, chief executive.

    “He will be quite a good foil to António,” says one adviser. “He might be understated but he is such a detail man that he won’t be fobbed off. He will be a serious challenger to the bank’s executives.”

    That prospective dynamic is understood to have played a vital role in Lord Blackwell’s selection for the job ahead of other candidates, including rival board member David Roberts.

    “Some people thought David still had CEO ambitions and would have rivalled António rather than complementing him,” says one person involved in the process.

    Capping Lord Blackwell’s suitability for the job, in the board’s eyes, was his deep political connections. Though he has not been directly involved in government since heading former prime minister John Major’s policy unit in the mid-1990s, he remains close to the current leadership and sits on the board of the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank.

    Lloyds remains 33 per cent government owned, and liaising with the Treasury, as that stake is sold to private sector investors over the next couple of years, may be the most crucial part of Lord Blackwell’s job.