NatWest Group History 100 object 39: poster responding to the Monopolies & Mergers Commission's rejection of two bids to buy the Royal Bank of Scotland, 1982.
'Business as usual' hardly sounds like a turning point, but sometimes what doesn't happen can be as influential as what does. That was the circumstance behind this poster, displayed in the bank's branches in England and Wales in 1982.
The government's Monopolies & Mergers Commission had just recommended the rejection of two rival bids to buy the Royal Bank of Scotland, along with its English and Welsh subsidiary, Williams & Glyn's Bank. This was a blow for the bank, because one of the bids - by Standard Chartered Bank - had been made with the full support of the Royal Bank's board. It was the future that they had seen for the bank. This poster was the bank's way of assuring customers that, although one plan had been thwarted, the bank would move forward and find a new vision for its future.
For the Bank's board, it was time to take stock
The acquisition bids did not come as a surprise. The Royal Bank of Scotland was one of the biggest banks in Scotland, and its subsidiary Williams & Glyn's operated hundreds of branches in England and Wales, but it was still a relatively small player in the sector - much smaller than the 'Big Four' of NatWest, Midland, Barclays and Lloyds. This made it a likely target for acquisition, and the bank's board welcomed the approach from Standard Chartered. Soon afterwards HSBC launched a rival offer, and in May 1981, both bids were referred to the Monopolies & Mergers Commission. The Commission was asked to review the bids and assess what outcome would be most beneficial for the nation.
The Commission found that both bids were likely to have an unwelcome centralising effect on the banking sector, moving influence, decision-making and important jobs away from local centres, particularly in Scotland. Those in favour of the bids had talked of creating a 'fifth force' in banking to rival the Big Four, but the Commission saw no inherent benefit in this. Perhaps a different, smaller bank actually offered customers more real choice.
So it was that in January 1982, the Royal Bank of Scotland - which had spent the past year preparing and arguing for one merger, and fighting another - found itself alone once again, facing a whole new future. For the board it was time to take stock. One of their main reasons for supporting the Standard Chartered bid had been the prospect of picking up ready-made relationships in different sectors and markets. Now they realised that the bank would have to build its own.