Business

Grumpy Old Men Bank

BBC business editor Robert Peston on a new retail bank for the UK

It might be called GOM Bank (for Grumpy Old Men Bank) or, more exotically, OMIAH Bank (for Old Men in a Hurry).

Either way, one striking characteristic of the bank being created by Sir David Walker, Lord Levene, Lord McFall and Charlie McCreevy is their respective ages: 70, 68, 65, 60 (actually some biographies of McCreevy say he's 61).

Another, of course, is that they're immensely distinguished and energetic.

But none of them have ever actually run - or even worked in an executive capacity for - a retail bank, which is what they want to create.

Walker: Bank of England and investment banking.

Levene: Lloyd's insurance market and investment banking (and government).

McFall: erstwhile chair of the Treasury Select Committee in the Commons and scourge of a failed generation of bankers.

McCreevy: Irish politician, former EU internal market commissioner and accountant.

So the FSA will have to risk asking them some seemingly impertinent questions before authorising them to own or run a bank: how will they get some genuine retail banking experience on to the board; isn't there a risk to the continuity of the business from their respective ages?

And who's actually going to run the bank - in that they're all uber-grandees, non-executives par excellence, not in any sense dirty-hands executives?

As for the future employees of GOM Bank, they'll have every moral right to demand that they too can work way beyond 65 - which would create an intriguing operational problem.

Lots of you, however, will welcome their initiative, I am sure.

Retail banking in the UK is dominated by an oligopoly not that dissimilar in structure or membership from the oligopoly that ran British banking in the 1930s. So a bit of competitive tension would suit most consumers, though the history of British banking is littered with failed initiatives to create such competitive tension.

How does GOM Bank intend to become a serious player? Well it'll list itself as a shell company in the next few weeks. Endowed with £50m of cash from some investment institutions, it then hopes to buy a small bank and obtain a deposit-taking licence.

So far, so pedestrian. But GOM would then want to be seen as a credible bidder for the retail banking business that the European Commission is forcing Lloyds to sell.

Those 600 Lloyds branches, with a 4.6% share of the retail banking market and 19% of Lloyds' mortgage assets, is what GOM would most like to buy, rather than Northern Rock, the nationalised bank (which it sees as less appealing).

As you can gather, there are quite a few hurdles for these grumpy old men to vault before they're giving HSBC and RBS a run for their money.

But I've know all of them (apart from McCreevy) for more years than I choose to admit. And they're all gritty long-distance players who won't be put off by the odd obstacle.

You can keep up with the latest from business editor Robert Peston by visiting his blog on the BBC News website.

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