A NatWest Diary - Introduction
Updated: Aug 30, 2019
I’m Peter Smith, ex Procurement Director, past President of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, and Managing Editor of Spend Matters Europe from 2010-18. I’m now an occasional consultant and regular writer about all things procurement-related.
I’ve set up this website to tell a story from exactly 20 years ago, day by day, and to commemorate an anniversary that marks an important moment in British business and banking history. Whether it was a positive event is a moot point; many would argue that it wasn’t, and indeed we could make a case that it was one of the catalysts for the 2008 global financial crisis. But more on that once we have told the story.
NatWest was formed in 1970 when the National Provincial and Westminster banks merged. These two institutions were coincidentally both formed back in1833, and themselves could trace a family tree going even further back and incorporating many other smaller banks and financial institutions. By 1999, NatWest also included Coutts (the royal bankers), Lombard, Ulster Bank and a range of other businesses covering investment banking insurance, cards and so on.
I joined NatWest in 1997 and became Group Purchasing Director in '98. Life went along pretty much as usual in a large corporation until late 1999 when NatWest attempted to buy Legal & General, the insurance company, and was then on the receiving end of hostile take-over bids from the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Both were much smaller than NatWest, but ... no! Perhaps we shouldn’t tell you what happened next?
But you know, of course, as no less than 20 years have gone by since then. Things got interesting, and in the end, RBS acquired NatWest, bringing to the end hundreds of years of that branch of banking history.
Being in the middle of events that for a few months were major business stories, day after day, was a new experience for me. I started keeping a diary (something I hadn’t done for years) early in the process, just for personal interest really and because it did feel like a bit of business history was being made - hostile take-over bids in banking being “about as frequent as a British player triumphing at Wimbledon” (as I wrote in 2000; now, post-Sir Andy Murray, we might say “winning the Football World Cup”!)
I have retained my exact original words almost everywhere, but in places I have added some new commentary - I’ve indicated where that is the case. I decided to anonymize many of the people involved but identify those who were in particularly senior roles and were in some sense in the public eye during the process. So, people who worked for me are not identified; the NatWest Board and those at my level or above are.
I was not in the very inner circle, which consisted of a handful of NatWest Directors and a few key advisers, but as someone who reported to a main board director, I suppose I was in the next circle - the tyre rather than the hub, you might say. As such, I was not immersed all the time in bid-related stuff; life went on in terms of managing my department, commuting, family and worrying about my future. All of this is reflected here, with events recorded as accurately as possible and pretty much in real time (featuring much rapid scribbling while sitting in various meetings!)
To add to the excitement, I will be publishing the material on a “real time + 20 years” basis as far as possible – so on the day defined in the diary. That means you can keep following us through to next spring! I hope you enjoy it, perhaps it will be source material for some future doctorates or MBA studies – I’m certainly not doing it for the money, but I’d love to hear any of your recollections in the “comments” section, if you worked at NatWest, RBS or BoS. And the first diary entry will be appearing on September 3rd, 2019!
Finally, my book of articles I wrote mainly for the Spend Matters website, titled "A PRocurement Compendium", is now available here (and through other websites) - nothing much about NatWest, but if you are interested in procurement or selling to procurement people, you might find it interesting.