RBS sounds out top HSBC executive Ian Stuart for chief executive job

Move comes as blow to internal candidate Alison Rose

Royal Bank of Scotland has approached the boss of HSBC’s UK operation about becoming its next chief executive, according to two people briefed on the discussions.

Ian Stuart, who runs HSBC's ringfenced bank in the UK, is among the preferred external candidates to replace Ross McEwan at RBS, which is majority-owned by the UK government, the people said.

The appointment of Mr Stuart would come as a blow to Alison Rose, the leading internal candidate, who is considered a "shoo-in" by some insiders at the bank.

Mr Stuart spent more than two decades at NatWest – which was acquired by RBS in 2000 – before joining Barclays in 2007. He moved to HSBC in 2014 and was elevated to his current job in 2017.


“It would be surprising if his name were not in the frame given how long he spent at NatWest,” one of the people said, although they added that Ms Rose was still the firm favourite.

Mr Stuart declined to comment via an HSBC spokesperson. A spokesperson for RBS declined to comment, but pointed to a statement the bank issued last week, in which it said “the search for a successor remains ongoing”.

The approach to Mr Stuart comes at a time of heightened nervousness among supporters of Ms Rose, who fear that the bank’s chairman Howard Davies wants to make an external appointment.

“It is difficult to be the frontrunner for so long,” said one supporter of Ms Rose’s candidacy. “I wouldn’t put it past Howard to go for an external [candidate].”

Ms Rose has been seen as the leading internal candidate for the top job since November, when she was appointed deputy head of NatWest Holdings – the ringfenced UK bank that owns RBS, Ulster Bank, NatWest and Coutts – which accounts for the vast majority of the lender's business.

Sir Howard is said to be relaxed about the optics of appointing an external male as chief executive when the bank has a strong internal female candidate, according to one person briefed on his thinking.


The person pointed out that RBS was the only large UK bank to have a female finance chief, after it elevated Katie Murray to the role in January. Ms Murray had been doing the job on an acting basis since October 2018, when her predecessor Ewen Stevenson left to fill the same position at HSBC.

Sir Howard also saw Mark Bailie, RBS’s chief operating officer, as a strong internal candidate for chief executive, the person added.

Another of the people said that RBS hoped to make a preliminary decision before the end of the month, although the bank would not announce its choice until after receiving regulatory approval.

Mr McEwan, the current chief executive, resigned from RBS in April after five-and-a-half years in the role. It is considered to be one of the toughest jobs in British banking because the government still owns 62 per cent of the shares after bailing the lender out during the financial crisis.


When Mr McEwan resigned, RBS said it would conduct "an internal and external search for his successor". Last week, Mr McEwan announced that he would join National Australia Bank as chief executive, prompting a fresh round of speculation over his replacement.

One person briefed on the search said that headhunters Spencer Stuart had struggled to drum up much enthusiasm from external candidates, in part because the pay package is lower than that of other large banks thanks to the government’s majority stake.

Mr McEwan earned a salary of £1 million (€1.1 million) and an overall package of £3.58 million in 2018, whereas his counterpart at Lloyds was paid a total of £6.27 million. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019