António Horta-Osório: banking’s go-to man felled by a breach of Covid rules

He had an impeccable reputation for rescuing struggling banks but a love of tennis was his undoing

Credit Suisse needed someone to lead a clean-up job, and António Horta-Osório had impeccable credentials for struggling banks. During the financial crisis at Spanish bank Santander he had led the takeover of Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley when they were near collapse, and then helped pull Lloyds Bank out of the mire after its government bailout.

He was not known to object to this shining-armour reputation, displaying in his office a cartoon showing a knight on horseback rescuing two banking damsels in distress.

Yet his latest adventure has ended suddenly, after an internal Credit Suisse investigation found breaches of Covid regulations. They included admitted contravention of Swiss isolation rules. He also watched Novak Djokovic win the Wimbledon men’s final when he allegedly should have been in quarantine according to UK laws. Horta-Osório resigned over the weekend once the findings were made clear to him.

Horta-Osório was born in Lisbon in January 1964, attending Jesuit school and acquiring a love of tennis, before studying management and business administration at the Portuguese capital’s Universidade Católica Portuguesa.

He started on his banking career in 1987 at Citibank Portugal, where he rose to become head of capital markets by 1991, while also completing an MBA at France’s prestigious Insead in the same year. From there he joined US investment bank Goldman Sachs, before Spain’s Santander took him on as a chief executive of a Portuguese subsidiary in 1993.

In 2006 he made the move to the UK to head up Abbey National, the former building society bought by Santander two years earlier. During four years in charge he steered the bank through acquisitions which built up a formidable high street presence, and a rebrand, not to mention the financial crisis.

By June 2009 his reputation was such that he was appointed as a non-executive director to the Court of the Bank of England, but he quickly gave up that role when former chancellor George Osborne picked him to lead Lloyds Banking Group.

Over the course of almost a decade Horta-Osório led Britain’s biggest high street bank past near-collapse during 2011 to leaving state ownership in 2017, and went through a big round of technology investment in response to the threat of digital startups, but also cut hundreds of branches and tens of thousands of jobs. He also collected £60m in pay.

He oversaw the unprecedented £22bn in compensation payouts by Lloyds to people miss-sold payment protection insurance.

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Horta-Osório’s affection for the UK became clear when he became a British citizen, a move that made him eligible for the knighthood (although he also sampled the other side of being a British public figure when a Sun newspaper front page splashed an affair in 2016 with the headline “Lloyds bonk”).

The royal honour was bestowed for services to “financial services, mental health and culture”, reflecting his work as chair of the Wallace Collection of art and antiquities as well as his ground-breaking openness about mental health struggles in an industry known for a sometimes punishingly macho culture.

At Credit Suisse he was brought in to turn the page on a series of governance scandals, overseeing the launch of a new strategy in November. His abrupt departure means he is unlikely to leave much of a mark on the bank.


Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

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