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Speculation Mounts Over Who Might Buy All Or Part Of Coutts International

Tom Burroughes

26 August 2014

Unsurprisingly after Royal Bank of Scotland announced it might consider selling Coutts International, the speculation machine has fired up. Already, one bank that is reported to be interested in a part of the firm is Banque Syz, the Geneva-based firm.

As a report by Reuters states – and this has also been heard by this publication – one option for RBS is a break-up of the international unit into component parts, such as selling its Asian and Swiss firms, for example, into separate units. A potential difficulty, analysts have told this publication, is the ability to continue use of the valuable Coutts brand.

"RBS will start the process saying they are selling it as a whole. They will provide enough information about the constituent parts such that if someone is interested in parts they can bid," Reuters reported, quoting a person “briefed on the sale”.

Since its announcement that it wanted to offload the international business – with a sale as one route – RBS and Coutts haven’t commented further on the matter.

The news service quoted a source stating that of the $36 billion that RBS Coutts International manages, around third comes from Asia.

The report named firms such as Singapore-headquartered DBS Group and United Overseas Bank as being among the potential suitors. The report also reeled off a list of European firms such as Credit Suisse, Standard Chartered and BNP Paribas, UBS and HSBC. None of these banks commented about the issue, the report said. It even mentioned Morgan Stanley as a suitor, although this might appear at odds with the US firm’s decision over a year ago to offload part of its non-domestic wealth business.

Other bank names mentioned in the story included Royal Bank of Canada and Julius Baer; both firms did not comment.

RBS is majority-owned by the UK government since a bailout in the depths of the financial crisis more than five years ago. Inevitably, there has been speculation as to how the lender will find the money to repay the taxpayer, and it has also been considered anomalous for a private bank for the wealthy to be owned by taxpayers.