By Lawrence White and Iain Withers
LONDON (Reuters) -NatWest has chosen former Mastercard chairman Rick Haythornthwaite as its next chair, the bank said on Wednesday, as the British bank seeks to contain the fallout from a row with former Brexit party leader Nigel Farage.
Haythornthwaite, who is the current chair of groceries delivery firm Ocado, will join NatWest’s board on January 8, 2024, and take over as chair from veteran Howard Davies on April 16, the bank said in a statement.
Britain’s biggest business lender has been left reeling by revelations in recent months over a decision by its private bank Coutts to remove Farage as a customer, after a document emerged showing this was done partly over his views.
The repercussions of that decision ultimately led to NatWest CEO Alison Rose being forced to step down, as well as the boss of Coutts. Chairman Davies’ position also came under investor pressure over his handling of the matter.
Davies had already announced his planned retirement, and said in April he would leave the bank as planned by next year, despite facing calls for him to leave sooner.
Farage said in a post on social network X that Davies seeing out his term was “a classic case of the establishment closing ranks”.
Haythornthwaite said that he was inheriting a “very different NatWest” to his predecessor Davies, who oversaw a return to majority private ownership for the bank after its state rescue in the 2008 global financial crisis.
Sky News first reported Haythornthwaite was being lined up for the role, which is subject to regulatory approval.
NatWest shares were last down 1%, compared to a 0.2% dip for the FTSE 100 index.
One of Haythornthwaite’s first tasks will be to find a permanent successor to Rose, who had led the bank for nearly 4 years prior to her leaving in July after admitting to a “serious error of judgment” over discussing Farage’s account with a BBC reporter.
NatWest appointed former commercial banking boss Paul Thwaite as interim CEO for an initial period of 12 months.
“First and foremost, NatWest needs to rebuild the trust of customers, investors, and the regulator – as we often find, trust is hard to build and easy to lose,” said Matt Britzman, equity analyst at investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown.
Haythornthwaite chaired payments company Mastercard for 14 years before taking on the same role at British online supermarket Ocado in May 2021.
NatWest said in its statement that Haythornthwaite would step down from several roles, including as a director at software company Globant.
An Ocado spokesperson said Haythornthwaite would stay on as chair of the company.
The AA said in a statement that Haythornthwaite would be stepping down as the company’s chairman, adding he would remain as a non-executive director.
He also previously worked as chairman at Centrica, Britain’s largest energy supplier, and state-owned rail track owner Network Rail, which at the time attracted criticism from the government and unions over claims of excessive pay for top bosses.
Haythornthwaite will be paid 775,000 pounds a year, the same as his predecessor Davies, NatWest said in a statement.
(Reporting by Lawrence White and Iain Withers in London, Additional reporting by Radhika Anilkumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza, Louise Heavens, Alexander Smith, Philippa Fletcher)