Page last updated at 23:03 GMT, Friday, 8 August 2008 00:03 UK

What is it like to lose millions of pounds?

By Anthony Reuben
Business reporter, BBC News

Things move fast when you are running a top bank.

Sir Fred Goodwin
I don't want to do this job forever but right now you find me extremely galvanised to the task in hand
Sir Fred Goodwin, chief executive, RBS Group

Only last year, some people were complaining about the levels of profits being made by the banks.

Now, after a brutal round of half-yearly results from the British banking sector, things are very different.

"Two years ago people were calling for us to buy back shares. It just shows how quickly things change," RBS chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin tells the BBC News website.

He is spending the day explaining why his bank is reporting six month losses of 691m, following write-downs of 5.9bn.

It is the second biggest half year loss announced by a British bank.

How has the day been going?

"Wait until I get upstairs and see what the analysts have written about us," he jokes.

'Very unsatisfactory'

"Results day is different every time," he says, adding that he is relieved to have finally been able to go public with the figures.

The bank announced the write-downs in April, at the same time as it launched its rights issue to raise an extra 12bn from its existing shareholders.

It meant that there was no doubt that RBS would report a loss and most analysts predicted it would be much bigger than it actually was.

Sir Fred says the write-downs created "a very unsatisfactory situation, made more so by the shadow it casts over the good performances across a wide range of our businesses".

Resignation talk

It was no surprise that the first two questions asked at the press conference were about whether either Sir Fred or chairman Sir Tom McKillop planned to resign any time soon.

Some institutional shareholders have suggested that at least one of them should leave following the losses.

Sir Tom McKillop
Maybe you have to be a bit of a masochist, but it's when things are tough that you really, really do see organisations perform
Sir Tom McKillop, chairman, RBS Group

"I don't want to do this job forever but right now you find me extremely galvanised to the task in hand," Sir Fred says.

The two of them use phrases such as "deeply disappointed" and apologise for any pain caused to their shareholders.

In his statement to the stock exchange, Sir Fred describes announcing the losses as "a chastening experience".

He talks wistfully about the times in the past when the business was "very straightforward", and when asked what is more difficult about doing his job compared with this time last year he asks, "How long have you got?"

"I'm not complaining about it, it's just that the speed of change is what caught everyone," he says.

Good changes

"At one level it doesn't affect you - you're still interacting with colleagues about the same sorts of issues, but the range of levers at your disposal [is smaller] and the pressures are on different parts of our business.

"So to the naked eye not very much [has changed] but when you get into the detail quite a lot [has]."

He says some of the changes could actually be a good thing.

"It's not entirely unwelcome - many of the changes that have come about have been things where people have said, 'this needs to change'.

"It's been the speed and degree of change that's made life difficult in this period of transition."

'Bit of a masochist'

His chairman suggests that difficult times for the banking sector are a good opportunity for well-run institutions to differentiate themselves.

"Maybe you have to be a bit of a masochist, but it's when things are tough that you really, really do see organisations perform," Sir Tom says.

"I'm a great believer in adversity sorting out who the long-term winners are going to be."

So does he look forward to presenting the bank's results?

It varies, he says, but has turned down quite an invitation to do it.

Bank of China invited him to the Olympics in Beijing, but he thought it might look bad if he did not turn up to present the results.


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