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Loansome traveller

Offshore mortgages: RBS International chief executive Ian Henderson explains to Philip Scott how he targets potential markets and why borrowers should be careful of speculating in foreign markets despite the lucrative deals often portrayed in TV property programmes

RBS International chief executive Ian Henderson is quick to point out that this is not the case.

He says: “I would say competition is no less fierce in Spain than the UK. There are the building societies, the international banks and the local banks.

“The Spanish banks are not going to sit back and leave it. They are fighting very aggressively as they see it as a great market opportunity for themselves as well as their indigenous markets, so you have actually got a double whammy from a competition perspective. There are the local banks seeking to play a role, as well as the UK groups such as Halifax and Barclays, both of which have a physical presence in that part of the world.”

RBS International operates in Spain and also does some business in Portugal. Henderson, who became CEO in July 2005, says he is ruling out some markets for now, such as parts of Eastern Europe, but he can see attraction in Florida, some of the Mediterranean countries and potentially in Cyprus.

“We will not be rushing into Bulgaria and places like that as there are other areas of greater relevance and priority. There is definitely interest in Turkey but there are bigger fish right now.”

In terms of the concentration in Spain, Henderson says: “We are looking to where the Brits are going, how easy or difficult is it for us to do business and the extent to which we can add value in the process. If an area ticks each box, it is a market of significant interest to us.”

There is the opportunity to price in euros or sterling, which can clearly vary in terms of value. He says: “You choose to borrow in euros and you can get a low headline rate but then it is up to you to manage that risk in terms of picking up some hedging costs.”

The arrival of mortgage regulation two years ago has not been a hindrance for the offshore market and Henderson believes the regulator’s presence offers the best of both worlds in many ways.

He says: “We can do busin-ess that is MCOB-compliant and equally we can do busi-ness where the regulations do not apply. But we have got a duty of care to our customers and while it might not be the FSA, we have got various other regulators who keep an eye on our business. I will see more, rather than less, regulation in the busi-ness in the coming years. I do not have a problem with that. The bottom line is that customers need to feel confident.”

The offshore banking operation of RBS operates under three brands, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland International and the Isle of Man Bank. Based in Jersey, Henderson is responsible for all three brands across Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar as well as the recently added responsibility of Singapore and Hong Kong. Other international deals are awaiting finalisation.

The group is also dealing with the launch of Quartet, a guaranteed stockmarket bond with a minimum investment of £10,000, $10,000 or euros 10,000.

Henderson says: “Quartet gives a lot of flexibility to the client in terms of which markets they choose to make their investments in and, indeed, they can start to mix and match. We have mainstream deposit products but we see the bigger appetite in the sort of derivative-backed structured product portfolio.”

When it comes to being hands-on, Henderson says this is one of the challenges of being CEO. He says: “I give it a lot of personal attention. I cannot spend a lot of time, given how difficult it is to get to Gibraltar and parts of Spain, but in terms of spreading my personal time allocation, I would say a disproportionate amount goes to markets such as Spanish mortgages.

“Obviously, we have some very important introducers of business and they want to see the senior people from time to time so that is part of it and there are occasions when my involvement can help win the business.”

TV programmes such as Channel 4’s One Year to Pay Off Your Mortgage have shown people trying to gamble on the foreign property market. Henderson says: “I have seen some of these promotional pieces but you have got to be careful.

“In Spain, price appreciation has been dramatic and there has been lots of speculative activity. People have done very well buying and selling before the property is built. But all the business we are doing is not speculative. It is for people who will actually use it as a second home.”

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