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RBS says preparing for Brexit uncertainty, eyes further cost cuts

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Royal Bank of Scotland Chairman Howard Davies said the state-backed lender was preparing as best it can for a potential phase of economic instability following a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

[EDINBURGH] Royal Bank of Scotland Chairman Howard Davies said the state-backed lender was preparing as best it can for a potential phase of economic instability following a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

Speaking at the bank's annual investor meeting in Edinburgh on Wednesday, Mr Davies said the vote was generating "additional uncertainty" in a sector already buffeted by low interest rates and economic volatility, but RBS would continue to support its customers whichever way the UK electorate voted on June 23.

"We are not one of those financial institutions whose core business depends critically on unfettered access to the EU markets, though our Irish and Western European businesses are significant," Mr Davies told investors.

"But if a vote to leave the EU leads to a slowdown in growth, as the Treasury, Bank of England and most other economic forecasters suggest, that would be an unwelcome headwind for your company," he added.

RBS, which was rescued with a 45.5 billion-pound (S$89.27 billion)taxpayer bailout at the height of the financial crisis, is in the midst of an unprecedented corporate restructuring and has not made a profit in eight years.

Chief executive Ross McEwan warned investors that"significant challenges still lie ahead" but the heaviest restructuring "will be behind us" by the end of 2016.

In an environment where interest rates look set to stay lower for longer, Mr McEwan said the bank recognised a need to adapt, and would reduce costs by at least another 800 million pounds to rein in a 72 per cent cost to income ratio for 2015.

REUTERS