The Co-op Bank is on the lookout for a new chief executive for the sixth time in nine years following the sudden resignation of its boss Andrew Bester.
The former Lloyds banker, who has completed 28 marathons, became the lender's fifth chief executive in seven years in 2018 when he was hired to revive its fortunes following a brush with collapse in 2013.
Mr Bester was viewed as a safe pair of hands, having been head of commercial banking at bailed-out Lloyds in the years after the financial crisis. He was once tipped as a successor to Antonio Horta-Osorio, its outgoing chief executive.
Mr Bester said he was leaving after two-and-a-half-years as his job at the bank was largely done, noting that his "ambition was to complete the major transformation phase of the turnaround". He will leave once a successor is found and it is not known if he has another role.
The bank, once part of the Co-op Group, has been in recovery mode since 2013 when staff found a £1.5bn hole in its balance sheet. That same year its chairman Paul Flowers, the ex-Methodist minister dubbed the “Crystal Methodist”, quit in the wake of an explosive drugs scandal.
After being rescued by a group of hedge funds in 2017, the bank was slowly rebuilding itself under Mr Bester. Before the pandemic hit lending to small business customers had started to increase for the first time in 10 years and the target was to return to profit by 2021.
In an interview with The Telegraph earlier this year the bank boss insisted that he was still upbeat about the lender’s future, despite the economy facing a crisis on a scale comparable with the 2008-09 financial crash. He said the bank had an “operational resilience” that it didn’t have 18 months ago and “like everyone” in the banking sector, the focus was now on adjusting.
His exit comes just under a year after it was reported that the bank's owners had hired Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs to sound out buyers, reportedly holding talks with some of the UK’s largest banks with an eye on a sale for later this year.
Mr Bester said earlier this year that the bank’s owners have been “very supportive” through the pandemic and that he was not thinking about consolidation. Insiders insist that the hedge funds in charge of the bank had no part to play in his decision to leave.
“I’m not really thinking about what happens later in the year or next year,” he said in April. “It’s far more us getting back to the critical role we play in society.”
The announcement of his resignation comes just over a month after the bank became the latest lender to slash its high street presence and cut jobs as the pandemic dramatically accelerates the shift to online banking.
The bank is axing 350 jobs, including head office roles, as well as 18 branches.
Earlier this year, to cope with the flood in demand and the spike in absences, Co-op Bank lawyers who usually work in head office were having to fill frontline roles in branches.