Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today.
Since we last spoke just over two months ago, the world has changed considerably. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the invasion of Ukraine and we are doing all we can to support them.
Last week, I visited our operations in Poland and heard first-hand how our colleagues are helping Ukrainian refugees with food, medicine and accommodation as well as other essential services.
And the bank has been keen to support the Ukrainian people in a number of other ways. More than 9 million pounds has so far been donated by our colleagues and customers to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal, including 2.5 million of match-funding by the bank. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has donated for their incredible generosity.
We have also taken measures to assist Ukrainian refugees, including helping them to open bank accounts and setting aside part of our Edinburgh headquarters as a welcome hub for those seeking refuge.
And we are donating £100,000 to the Perspektywy Foundation which will provide support to 500 Ukrainian students as they begin their studies in Polish universities and polytechnics.
In addition to the humanitarian cost, the invasion of Ukraine has led to greater geo-political and macro-economic uncertainty, adding to the inflationary pressures impacting households in the UK.
We are not seeing any significant signs of financial distress in our book at this stage. We are, however, very aware of the challenges and concerns the cost-of-living crisis is causing for many of our customers up and down the country.
Therefore, in line with our approach throughout the pandemic, we are focussed on providing the practical help and support that people, families and businesses need to thrive.
This includes delivering more financial health checks to help customers understand their personal finances better and providing a dedicated SME ecosystem with access to specialist advice throughout the UK. We are also working alongside charities such as Citizens Advice and GamCare to support those who are most in need as well as helping young people develop greater financial confidence through initiatives such as our Dream Bigger programme and our collaboration with the footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford.
It is this focus on building deeper relationships with our customers, combined with two years of execution against our strategy, that means NatWest Group is well placed to deliver sustainable growth and sustainable returns in the years to come.
As I said in February, we are building from a position of strength, having made considerable progress against our strategic targets during the past two years in a difficult macro-economic environment:
For 2021, we delivered an operating profit of 4.3 billion pounds for the whole Group, up from a loss of 351 million in 2020.
We removed a further 256 million pounds of costs from the business and retain a capital ratio well above our target range.
And at the same time, our 3 billion pound investment programme, focused primarily on technology, digitisation and data, is enabling our customers to interact with us in different ways with almost 90% of retail customer needs now being met digitally.
And now, with the economy starting to recover, the business is firmly positioned for growth.
Importantly, one of the ways we will drive growth is by reflecting the values and aspirations of our customers – especially in helping our customers tackle climate change and the transition to net zero.
Of course, addressing the climate crisis is not something NatWest Group or any individual organisation can do on its own.
As a bank, the biggest impact we can have on the transition to net zero comes from supporting our 19 million customers to understand and reduce their climate impact.
In practical terms, we have scaled our efforts to help meet the demand for sustainable financing, building on our leadership position as the largest lender to renewables.
In 2020, we set out to provide 20 billion pounds of climate and sustainable funding and financing over two years.
Having met this initial target in under 18 months, we have committed to an ambitious new goal of providing an additional 100 billion pounds of climate and sustainable funding and financing by the end of 2025.
We are also taking a leading role in decarbonising UK homes, promoting electric transport and supporting the transition to clean energy.
There is a clear commercial imperative in helping our customers to thrive as we transition to net zero.
Our ‘Springboard to Sustainable Recovery’ report, which we published in 2021, highlights this.
The report shows that if small and medium-sized enterprises get the right support, they can deliver a significant amount of the UK’s abatement targets.
An action which could deliver more than £160 billion in climate opportunities for our customers.
We believe being transparent about our climate progress is also vital.
And as Howard has mentioned, through the bank’s first climate resolution, we are giving our shareholders a chance to have their say on climate.
This will not only promote transparency about our climate ambitions and strategic direction, but also provide feedback to help us shape our future climate transition planning.
We will also drive growth through our continued customer focus.
We know there is an opportunity in the UK for a bank that genuinely understands its customers – what they want now, what they will need next, and what they will need for the future.
And this – I believe – is the opportunity we uniquely have.
Whether that be through our continued investment in data and digital, giving us the ability to know our customers and their needs better; or through starting customer relationships earlier in the lifecycle, to support the next generation.
For example, last year we launched our ‘CareerSense’ programme – providing more than 8,000 young people with free access to tools that will develop critical skills and support their employability prospects.
And recently, we announced our collaboration with Marcus Rashford. Together we are creating a programme that builds young people’s financial confidence and helps them develop a positive relationship with money.
Finally, we continue to focus on supporting businesses across the country.
We are already the leading bank for small and medium businesses in the UK with a leading net promoter score.
Last year we supported SME’s with 2.2 billion pounds of gross lending and we processed a quarter of all UK payments.
As the economy recovers, we continue to invest and support these businesses which drive around half of UK turnover and employ 60% of the private sector workforce.
One example of our investment is our payments proposition.
Our merchant acquiring platform Tyl allows businesses to take payments from customers via a card, phone or online.
While another of our services, called Payit, uses open banking technology so businesses can manage online payments direct to their customers’ bank accounts in near real time without needing to know or store their card or account details.
These are just a couple of examples of the innovation we are pursuing to support our business customers.
So, looking forward to this year and beyond, we can take confidence from the strong progress of the last two years as we returned to profitability, reduced government ownership to below 50% and continued our 3 billion pound investment programme to make better use of data and digital to deliver a better and simpler banking experience for our customers.
Against a challenging backdrop, it is as important as ever that the Group remains focused on our purpose: championing potential, helping people, families and businesses to thrive.
In doing so, we are able to create deeper and more meaningful relationships with our customers, giving them the support they need at every stage of their lives – whether that is buying a house, saving for retirement, or setting up and growing their own business, and importantly, helping them navigate the times ahead.
Living up to our purpose is therefore not only the right thing to do, it also has a strong commercial imperative, helping us to create value, drive growth and deliver sustainable returns for our shareholders. Thank you. I will now pass back to Howard.
Chairman speech - Annual General Meeting 2022