Co-op Bank finance chief becomes bank's sixth boss in less than a decade

Lucy Burton
·3-min read
Co-op bank
Co-op bank

The Co-operative Bank has made finance chief Nick Slape its new boss after chief executive Andrew Bester's sudden resignation earlier this month.

Mr Slape, who like Mr Bester joined from Lloyds Banking Group in 2018, will become the bank's sixth chief executive in less than a decade at the end of this month. His appointment follows a quick, two-week search for a replacement that did not involve an external headhunter, sources said. 

"Promoting the chief financial officer is the classic fall-back, risk averse, efficient option," said one City recruiter. It is not clear if any external candidates were approached, but insiders said Mr Slape was picked because he was well liked internally and would provide "good continuity", suggesting no plans for a radical shift in strategy is on the cards. 

The change at the top 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.  

The Manchester-based bank, which has problems going back to its ill-fated 2009 merger with the Britannia Building Society, has been in recovery mode since 2013 when staff found a £1.5bn hole in its balance sheet. That same year it suffered a major reputational crisis after its chairman Paul Flowers, the ex-Methodist minister dubbed the “Crystal Methodist”, quit in the wake of an explosive drugs scandal. 

Mr Bester was viewed as a safe pair of hands when he took on the role in July 2018 but announced his shock departure earlier this month, right in the middle of a turnaround plan. He said his “ambition was to complete the major transformation phase of the turnaround”, which he had now done. It is not known what he plans to do next although sources said he was likely to take on another turnaround role. 

Andrew Bester
Andrew Bester

Co-operative Bank chairman Bob Dench said Mr Slape, who has previously worked at a number of investment banks, has "played a leading role in shaping and delivering key elements of the turnaround plan" alongside Mr Bester.

He added: "He is the natural choice to lead the bank as we move towards achieving sustainable profitability. We have made good progress in recent years and key to this success has been Nick's sound financial management."

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 2022.  

However it fell deeper into the red in the first half of this year after it was forced to put aside £11.2m to cover loan impairments linked to the pandemic. In August, it also announced that it was closing 18 branches and cutting 350 jobs due to the coronavirus crisis.