Royal Bank of Scotland (LSE: RBS.L - news) (RBS) is cancelling corporate hospitality packages to the Wimbledon tennis championships estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds as it tries to contain the public relations crisis caused by the systems failure that left millions of customers without access to their money.
I have learnt that RBS, which is majority-owned by British taxpayers, is to close its suite at the All England Club in south-west London from Wednesday for the duration of the tournament.
Staff involved in RBS's sponsorship and hospitality teams will be informed of the decision this evening.
The move, which I am told has been approved by Stephen Hester, the bank’s chief executive, has been taken in order to avoid an intensification of the criticism which has beset RBS since last week.
Senior RBS executives believe the bank’s taxpayer-owned status and the current crisis mean that pictures of staff enjoying lavish hospitality packages would compound the reputational damage.
RBS has routinely faced criticism since its Government rescue in 2008 for continuing to sponsor the Six Nations rugby union tournament and hosting clients at major sporting and other events.
The bank spent vast sums of money associating its name with prominent sporting events and personalities during the reign of Fred Goodwin, whose objective was to establish RBS as one of the world’s leading financial services groups.
I should declare an interest here, in that like many other journalists I was due to go to Wimbledon as a guest of RBS during this year’s tournament.
There is little doubt, though, that the bank’s decision is the correct one given the inadequacy of its response to the software glitch. Mr Hester has apologised to customers but the bank has been inundated with complaints about the problems involving NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank.
It has admitted Ulster Bank - worst-hit by the technical breakdown - will continue to experience the effects until next Monday.
On the hospitality decision, one insider said: “It would be inappropriate for senior staff to be distracted by entertaining clients at Wimbledon when responding to the crisis is the priority for the bank.”
My understanding is that the decision to close its suite will stand even if the crisis is resolved before Wimbledon ends in just under a fortnight’s time.
RBS has refused to comment on a report that a technician in Hyderabad, in India, caused the breakdown. The company maintains that its systems are controlled in the UK.