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RBS bonus mess is a CSR team opportunity

I’ve been listening to interviews with RBS’s CEO and Chairman over the last couple of days.

(For readers outside the UK: this is the bad bank we nationalised recently at a cost so far of about £45 billion. There’s been a big furore about the CEO taking a bonus, which he has now given up)

I know little about the ins and outs of banking. But it does seem from what I read, that Stephen Hester, the CEO, and Sir Philip Hampton, the experienced chairman, are doing a decent job cleaning up a total mess.

In one interview on the BBC Hampton said he and Hester had discussed the bonus, and decided Hester should take it. The remuneration committee had approved it.

They admitted they underestimated the strength of public feeling around the issue.

If Hester has done a good job there’s no reason he shouldn’t get paid well.

But clearly a bonus in the usual fashion is not the way to public acceptance.

The fact that the senior executives at RBS didn’t realise this is a little worrying.

If any bank should be connected with public feeling it should be RBS.

If the board had consulted the head of corporate responsibility and his team, I doubt they would have suggested taking it.

Boards clearly don’t yet grasp that CSR heads can be tactically useful day to day, as well as strategic on policy and target development.

Maybe CSR/Sustainability teams need to show how they can offer public feeling monitoring services to boards.

That’s part of ongoing stakeholder engagement. Let the marketing or media team do it alone, and they’ll likely miss a trick.

Perhaps the competent and impressive CR team at RBS now have an opportunity to prove their tactical value as reputation risk monitors alongside their other work.