So the Cheltenham & Gloucester brand has had a reprieve, and the mortgage specialist’s 164-strong branch network will, for the moment, remain intact under the aegis of Lloyds Banking Group. Don’t for a minute think that this signals a change of heart about the high street banking group’s brand cull. It doesn’t.
C&G will be retained, pro tem, as a sacrificial victim to placate the competition deities in the European Commission, who are becoming increasingly restless about 1) Lloyds’ now enormous share of the UK retail banking market and 2) The huge slug of money it has received from UK taxpayers, which may – in some lights – be regarded as state subsidy, a no-no in today’s EU.
Elsewhere, the cull moves ruthlessly on. Lloyds will want to reduce its dependence on the Asset Protection Scheme (ie taxpayers’ money) as quickly as possible. One way of doing this is to tap shareholders for extra money via a rights issue. Another is to sell off non-core assets.
I note, for example, that Lloyds has been dismantling any remaining connection between the Halifax brand and its internet banking brand, Intelligent Finance. Should we expect an announcement about IF being sold off quite soon? And, after that, Scottish Widows?