NatWest revealed that it made a pre-tax operating loss of £351 million in 2020, down from a profit of £4.2 billion a year earlier. BBC’s Felicity Hannah told BBC Radio 5 Live: “These results matter because 62 percent of the bank is still owned by the taxpayer. You probably remember it was bailed out back in 2008 with £46billion of taxpayer money.
“This morning we’ve learned it made a £350million loss and that compares to a £4.2billion profit in the previous year back in 2019.
“That loss is not necessarily as dramatic as it sounds, it’s because the bank is looking ahead and setting asaid £3.2billion to cover loans to people and businesses that they think might not be paid back and all banks have been doing that.
“I think one question a lot of people will have is about bonuses. Back in 2019, the group awarded bonuses a total of £307million and this year despite everything it still paying £206million in bonuses.
“I think that’s going to get a lot of extra scrutiny in a year where people are tightening their belts.”
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CEO Alison Rose was accused of trying to defend “justify” the huge payouts.
Asked how NatWest could give bonuses, she told the radio show: “Our focus is on trying to support our customers. Our branches stayed open to support customers and we really focused on enterprise during this period and helping with financial capability.”
BBC host Clare McDonnell interjected: “But how do you justify those bonuses at such a critical time for people who might have come to Natwest and were refused an overdraft extension, business loan extension – you’re still paying about £200million in bonuses.”
Ms Rose continued: “We have put huge amount of support into our customers.
It comes as NatWest confirmed Ulster Bank is to begin a phased withdrawal from the Irish market.
Explaining the move, NatWest said a review of its Irish bank found that it would not achieve an acceptable level of returns going forward.
Uncertainty now surrounds the bank’s 2,800 staff, although NatWest insists it will try to keep job losses to a minimum.
Ulster Bank’s operations in Northern Ireland are unaffected by the announcement.