Lloyds chief warns of 'uncertainty'

The Scottish independence referendum is creating "uncertainty" in the banking sector, according to the chairman of Lloyds.

Lord Norman Blackwell said Lloyds, which owns Bank of Scotland, does not have a corporate view on independence
Lord Norman Blackwell said Lloyds, which owns Bank of Scotland, does not have a corporate view on independence

Lord Norman Blackwell said the banking group, which owns Bank of Scotland, does not have any plans to move and does not have a corporate view on independence.

He told shareholders at the state-backed bank's annual general meeting in Edinburgh that officials are looking into the possible outcomes of a Yes vote, but there is no plan in place because it is impossible to speculate.

He said: "The matter around Scottish independence is a matter for the Scottish electorate and Lloyds as a group does not have a corporate view on that.

"We have set out that there are uncertainties created for everyone in advance of the referendum and those uncertainties to the bank translate into risks around what the compliance regime will be, what the tax regime will be, the funding structures."

"We are not at this point planning any moves because we don't know what the result will be or how any result will translate into changes in the regulatory environment or governance."

The banking group's board, including chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio, faced more than two hours of questions from shareholders, including one on what the effect on shares would be and whether or not the meeting would be in Edinburgh again next year in the event of a Yes vote.

Lord Blackwell said: "If there were a vote for Scottish independence we would obviously seek then to work with all the relevant authorities to ensure that we had a way forward that helped us to keep our core purpose, which is to serve our customers across the UK as effectively as we can.

"But I'm afraid the uncertainties will be there until the day after the referendum and following any vote, what that will mean in practice.

"There are clearly some uncertainties that will arise for us and for every financial institution in terms of what a vote for independence would mean. These uncertainties would have to be dealt with and worked through constructively. I hope to achieve an outcome that was best for all concerned and we would seek to do that.

"What impact it would have on the share price would obviously depend on what that outcome was and how beneficial and constructive that was for the bank and its customers."

He added: "There are a number of uncertainties and it would be impossible to speculate at this stage in terms of how compliance, regulation and governance would work. These are things that are yet to be spelt out and anything we do will depend on the conditions in which we find ourselves and the way those conditions are set out by the appropriate authorities.

"I can't speculate on any of that. What I will say is that we are very proud of our Scottish heritage and we are very proud of the very fine business we have in Scotland and we will do our best under any outcome to continue to serve our customers in Scotland and in the rest of the UK."

One shareholder pressed Lord Blackwell on what the bank's position would be if there was not a currency union.

He replied: "The bank has made no provision because we don't know what the outcome of the referendum will be but also because there would be a period beyond the referendum where all these issues would be addressed and that is likely to be about 12 to 18 months to work through the impacts and we can't anticipate and we certainly can't make provisions about things at that level of uncertainty."

The shareholder asked: "So the bank has no team, even a small team looking at this?"

Lord Blackwell replied: "Of course we are looking at what the possibilities might be but it's contingency planning around what outcomes might occur but there is no plan because we do not know either what the result would be or what the implications would be until the result is announced and the discussions then take place around what conditions would then exist."

Shareholders also voted during the meeting to approve the remuneration policy for directors.

The bank revealed in March that Mr Horta-Osorio could pick up a possible £7.8 million in total pay for 2014, if the maximum long-term incentive payout of 300% of salary is awarded.

The board faced questions from shareholders on staff bonuses, payment protection insurance and mortgage lending.

Lloyds, which is still 25% owned by the taxpayer, announced earlier this month that it expects to launch a stock market float of the revived TSB business within eight weeks, which will include a retail element for private shareholders.

The group - rescued by the Government at the height of the financial crisis - was ordered to spin off more than 600 branches under EU rules on state aid, and has already rebranded the sites as TSB after the collapse of a deal to sell them to the Co-op.

Lloyds said it was in a strong position ahead of talks with the financial regulator in the second half of this year to restart dividend payments which could see a full-year reward for shareholders in May 2015.

Mr Horta-Osorio told shareholders gathered for the AGM that restarting dividend payments would help "restore trust and confidence" in the group.

Lloyds suffered a shareholder rebellion over pay as nearly 13% voted against the approval of its remuneration implementation report.

In February, the group said Mr Horta-Osorio wa s in line for a potential shares bonus worth £1.7 million. The windfall is deferred for five years and dependent on performance conditions.