It feels quite like old times again with Royal Bank of Scotland sustaining a £691m loss for the first half of the year and Sir Fred Goodwin, its chief executive, promising not “to do this job forever”.
UK banks are now suffering from credit losses on a scale not seen since the early 1990s when the last large property and economic downturn hit the UK and, as it happened, I had just become a banking correspondent.
So, given this excuse to go down memory lane, here are a couple of thoughts about how the past compares with the present.
First, the senior executives of UK banks have escaped lightly compared with their counterparts in the US. The early 1990s write-downs led to a series of changes at the top of banks including at National Westminter and Barclays.
So far, the current generation of chief executives has largely managed to remain in place. I wonder how long that will last. Sir Fred gave a pretty broad hint that his board has already started the clock on his tenure ticking.
Second, it is strange to see Royal Bank of Scotland in the forefront of the problems. When I was a young(ish) banking correspondent, RBS was starting to emerge from the shadows as a Scottish bank to become a national and then a global force.
Indeed, the credit crisis of the early 1990s was the event that let RBS to shine compared with the Big Four English clearing banks. Under Sir George Mathewson, it took the opportunity to overtake its southern counterparts.
Sir Fred succeeded Sir George at the helm of the bank and for a long time appeared to be applying the same no-nonsense disciplines to commercial banking. But he has been caught short by the current credit crisis.
I wonder what Sir George, who retired as chairman of RBS in 2006, thinks about the current turmoil. Given what he had to say about his rivals’ failures in the early 1990s, I imagine that he is unimpressed.