RBS starts hunt for new chief executive as McEwan steps down

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Royal Bank of Scotland's top banker will leave the state-backed lender within a year, in an expected move that potentially paves the way for a senior female executive to take his role.

The bank will start searching for Chief Executive Officer Ross McEwan's replacement immediately, according to a statement Thursday. Speculation has been rife on who could take McEwan's job after RBS cleared a major U.S. settlement last year. The 61-year-old New Zealander joined RBS in 2013.

Shares in the bank fell 2.7% in late afternoon trading in London. RBS has retained search firm Spencer Stuart to find a replacement for the CEO and it will look at potential candidates in countries including Australia, U.K. and Canada, Chairman Howard Davies told reporters at its annual general meeting in Edinburgh.

"His successful execution of the strategy to refocus the bank back on its core markets here in the U.K. and Ireland has helped to deliver one of the biggest U.K. corporate turnarounds in history," Davies said in an earlier statement.

McEwan has been telegraphing his intention to step down, previously saying he intended to stay through the bank's 2020 plan. People with knowledge of the matter have said that his successor could be Alison Rose, a lifer at RBS and its predecessor firms, who now runs British commercial and private banking and has also been given additional responsibilities recently.

"We believe that shareholders would be highly supportive if she is elected to the position," analysts at Goodbody including John Cronin said in a note.

A new CEO would push forward the strategy of slashing costs and finding growth in a U.K. market that McEwan has described as very competitive. Under McEwan, RBS finally swung to profit in 2017, and has generated capital far greater than required by the regulators. It even announced special dividends for the first time in 10 years.

Before that, there was a decade of losses as RBS was hit by the multitude of scandals that ensnared banks — mis-sold payment-protection insurance, Libor and foreign-exchange index rigging — even before firms settled with the U.S. Department of Justice on how they packaged and sold the mortgage-backed securities that fueled the financial crisis. RBS, nationalized after the disastrous takeover of ABN Amro, also had to restructure its investment bank, once one of the world's largest.

Bloomberg News