Horta-Osorio speeds-up Lloyds sale plans on day one

THE NEW chief executive of Lloyds is stepping up plans to sell more than 600 branches operated by the state-backed lender.

António Horta-Osório, the former head of Spanish bank Santander’s UK operations, took his place at the helm yesterday.

His tenure began with a bang, as the bank revealed it would push ahead

with plans to dispose of billions of pounds worth of assets to meet European Commission competition rules.

The so-called “state aid” requirements, drawn up following the lender’s £23bn bailout from the UK government and its purchase of crisis-hit rival HBOS, force Lloyds to reduce its influence.

However, the bank yesterday said it would not announce the closure of any more branches in the UK this year.

Instead, it will look to find a buyer for Cheltenham & Gloucester, Lloyds TSB Scotland and about 200 UK Lloyds and Halifax branches by the end of this year.

Potential suitors could include Virgin Money and NBNK – the banking venture operated by City grandee Lord Levene and former Northern Rock boss Gary Hoffman.

Investment bankers are currently being lined up by Lloyds to oversee

the sale – dubbed “Project Verde” – with an appointment expected over the coming weeks.

An accelerated sale could pre-empt the government’s Independent Commission on Banking, due by the end of this year, with the hope that it could stave off a full-scale break up of the bank.

Horta-Osório has also initiated a strategic review of the bank’s entire retail and commercial operations, which will report to the market by the end of June.

Known as a ruthless cost cutter, Horta-Osório replaces long-serving chief executive Eric Daniels, a career retail banker who received a £1.45m deferred share bonus for his final year in charge.

Horta-Osório started his career at Citibank Portugal where he was head of capital markets. He then worked for Goldman Sachs in New York and London before joining Santander in 1993.