BusinessCorporate FinanceOn the money with Gavin Hinks

On the money with Gavin Hinks

Last week we learned that Guy Whittaker, group FD at Royal Bank of Scotland, is to move on

gavin hinks, editor accountancy age

He must be exhausted after working through the blighted ABN Amro takeover and
then seeing the bank through the crisis that saw former CEO Sir Fred ‘the Shred’
Goodwin and one-time chairman Sir Tom McKillop forced to resign in ignominy as
the bank became more or less nationalised.

Whittaker has been at the eye of the storm for quite some time. Stephen
Hester, who took over from Sir Fred, praised Whittaker, saying it was typical of
the man to want to see through a proper handover.

Having only joined from Citigroup in 2006 Whittaker is relatively untainted
by everything that went on at RBS.

Other FDs have not faired so well. But Whittaker’s departure reminds us of
the debate over what role FDs could have played in the crisis.

Should they have acted as a restraint on marauding CEOs blinded by ambition?

One of the arguments that crops up over Northern Rock is that it lost Bob
Bennett, a highly respected finance director, at a critical moment. Many saw him
as the only person that was capable of balancing the strategy of CEO Adam
Applegarth. The chairman and non executive directors were, it was perceived, not
up to it.

As conversation about green shoots of recovery take over, it would be as well
that the profession begins this new debate about the checks and balances an FD
provides to a hard headed CEO. But, likewise, no one wants to end up being the
FD who failed to stand up to a CEO whose strategy was clearly set on the road to
calamity.

There’s something else worth bearing in mind. Last week saw shareholders vote
down the bonuses of the board at Provident Financial. A salutary reminder of who
the CEO and FD are ultimately accountable to.

Gavin Hinks is editor of Accountancy Age

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