NATWEST set out a strong case to be freed from government control today with an 82% leap in profit to £946 million in the first quarter.
Chief executive Alison Rose believes the bank is in good enough shape that the government can keep selling down its now 59% stake in a bank that was bailed out back in 2008.
The process of the government divesting since then has been painfully slow and has suffered numerous delays as crises kept hitting the business and the economy.
NatWest – it moved on from the Royal Bank of Scotland name last year – hasn’t yet updated its economic forecasts, something it will do at the half-year. But like rival Lloyds Bank it plainly sees that there are causes for hope.
Rose said: “Defaults remain low as a result of the UK government support schemes and there are reasons for optimism.”
Under Rose, NatWest is positioned as a “relationship” bank. The statement makes references to mental health programmes, carbon footprint and National Careers Week.
One Edinburgh office has been turned into a mass vaccination centre, running 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Rose said: “The government has been a very good shareholder, but our focus is to return that money to taxpayers. That is absolutely the priority for me.”
The bank released £102 million of cash put aside for loans going bad during the pandemic.
The shares open today at 204p.