RBS – Inside The Bank That Ran Out Of Money Review


The subject of this new BBC documentary could not be more pertinent. As George Osborne warned of the ominous and disastrous effect of the eurozone crisis this week, it seems that once again, money is the subject on everybody’s mind.

Back when our country was in the first grip of recession, Britain waited with baited breath to find out the outcome of one of the biggest meltdowns a financial institution has ever endured. RBS – Inside the Bank That Ran Out of Money explores the events which lead up to the Royal Bank of Scotland’s bailout, as taxpayers were left to fork out in order to save the corporation from further detonating Britain’s economy.

In the current climate of economic hardship and prolific unemployment you might imagine this documentary could prove difficult to swallow. Before dismissing it on this basis however, it is interesting to note that it delves not just into the crisis which unfolded before our disbelieving eyes back in 2008, but the humble beginnings of a company which began as a dependable and loyalty based Scottish institution. With interviews from key executives who worked at the company during its highs and lows, we gain insight from those for whom the bank appears to have left a genuine and indelible mark on their lives both personally and professionally.

Before it all went downhill faster than you can say ‘bankrupt’, on paper the rise of RBS reads like a phenomenal success story. Winning the battle against The Bank of Scotland in the 1988 NatWest takeover, the bank accumulated growth with impressive rapidity, by 2004 even enjoying an 80% increase in profit from its previous year.

Inevitably, what goes up…

The tone of the programme is certainly not optimistic, and a sense of foreboding builds as menacingly as RBS’s capital once did. So where does the blame lie? Of course fingers must be pointed and in this instance the former chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin is undeniably the main culprit. Accounts of the bank under former exec George Mathewson tell of an exciting time, with an encouraging and involving atmosphere for all employees. He is described as ‘charismatic’ and ‘well-respected’ by those who worked with him. In contrast, and through rather bitten tongues, just a few of the words used to describe his successor include ‘efficient’ and ‘acerbic’. It seems as though Goodwin was a man who prided himself on ambition and brazen glory. Tales of ‘morning beatings’ under ‘Fred the shed’ give us a glimpse into his blinded and ultimately disastrous leadership style. It is revealed that it was this ambition which eventually became his downfall.

The documentary goes on to expose in various detail the financial mistakes which lead to RBS’s monumental crash, and it is not just Goodwin in the firing line, you will end up in disbelief at just how far into the sand some of the key figure’s heads were buried.

If you are somebody who is perhaps left a bit befuddled by financial jargon, or indeed if what exactly occurred around the time of the bailout flew over your head, then this programme will prove helpful in aiding your understanding. The tone does become a little monosyllabic and wearing at times, however it is worth sticking with it for what it manages to uncover.

A final bonus to look out for is the previously never-before-broadcast footage of Fred Goodwin’s final meeting with RBS shareholders. It is perhaps mildly satisfying to see him come under the steely gaze of those he made to suffer (however indirectly or unintentionally is a point left up to you to gauge). Yet unsurprisingly, his apology appears futile, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to redeem.