Departure of Horta-Osório no bad thing for Lloyds at this time

By the time he leaves Lloyds Banking Group next year, António Horta-Osório will have been paid roughly £60m for his decade in charge, which is rather better than shareholders have done. A pound invested on the chief executive’s arrival from Santander in March 2011 is worth 63p, even with dividends (for the few years they were paid) re-invested.

Context is important, of course. You would have fared even worse by backing Barclays or Royal Bank of Scotland in the same period, even though Lloyds forked out the largest sum (an astonishing £22bn) for PPI compensation and costs. And Covid-19, which has whacked Lloyds’ share price by 45% since February, has obviously ruined the performance statistics. Horta-Osório did better than the shares suggest.

On his watch, Lloyds repaid its £20bn state bail-out money, improved its capital ratios and and cut costs. It is why the board faced down every protest over his pay packet. On the minus side of the ledger, the most serious blemish was Lloyds’ foot-dragging over compensating victims of the HBOS Reading fraud; we await Dame Linda Dobbs’ independent report on the board’s handling of the issue.

It is, though, a good moment for Horta-Osório to announce his exit. For all the hard-won stability, the share price isn’t lying: the fall-out from Covid-19 will be financially painful. A new boss at this point is no bad thing.

Impairment charges will inevitably explode with the recession. Ultra-low interest rates, for as far as the eye can see, will make it harder to make decent returns from current accounts and mortgages. There could also be a mighty battle ahead with government as losses on Covid-19 emergency loans arrive; the small print on Treasury 100% guarantee on “bounce back” loans is yet to be tested.

Horta-Osório will leave a sketch of an escape plan for Lloyds: get bigger in savings, pensions and insurance, the only major parts of the financial services industry where acquisitions by the UK’s biggest domestic bank wouldn’t invite a competition inquiry. Is it still the right plan, though? Diversification hasn’t always ended happily for banks. Robin Budenberg, unveiled as the next chairman on Monday, should feel free to think differently.

Boohoo needs to get an outsider to look at its supply chain

The 23% fall in Boohoo’s share price on Monday, removing £1.1bn of stock market value, should send a simple message to the fast fashion retailer’s board: spend less time devising get-rich incentive schemes for executives, and devote more energy to ensuring the supplier base is squeaky clean. Better still, get an outsider firm to inspect the handling of a brand-threatening issue.

Boohoo’s response to the Leicester affair was underwhelming. The fast fashion firm promised to “look at ways to further strengthen” audit procedures and processes. That fell short of being a root-and-branch review. Indeed, even after 24 hours of scrambling around, Boohoo still couldn’t offer a full explanation of how some of its clothes were being produced in an unauthorised factory where the Sunday Times found illegal rates of pay.

Housebuilder Persimmon, when mired in accusations of shoddy workmanship of its houses, commissioned an independent QC to investigate and then published her (damning) findings. The corporate pledge of renewal was more credible for that exercise. Boohoo would benefit from something similar.

Mahmud Kamani, founder and executive chairman, is not a fan of conventional governance arrangements, which is one reason why Boohoo still resides on the junior Alternative Investment Market. He should understand, though, that an outsider’s perspective can be useful. This is one of those occasions. Appoint a credible external figure to assess the approach to auditing the supply chain.

New Aviva chief can do what she wants

Aviva, as all its incoming chief executives have been saying for about a decade and a half, must do better. Amanda Blanc, as she took over from Maurice Tulloch, who is leaving for family health reasons, joined the club on Monday. “We will look at all our strategic opportunities, and at pace,” she said.

Does that signal a break-up, separating life insurance and pensions from general insurance? Or a sale of the Asian operations – an idea that Tulloch flirted with but then abandoned? Blanc, a current Aviva non-executive whose executive career was spent mainly at Axa and Zurich Insurance, gave little away on day one.

She does, though, have a mandate to do whatever she wants. The share price was £12 when Aviva was created at the turn of the century via merger; now it is 283p. If a break-up looms, no investor would miss the FTSE 100’s most infuriating stock.

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