Retail and Foreign Banks

Retail and foreign banking has changed radically over the past decade and with it the nature of its legal work has also changed.

Consolidation has been a key to this transformation. The Royal Bank of Scotland’s merger with NatWest, HSBC Holdings’ acquisition of Midland Bank, and Lloyds Bank’s decision to join forces with TSB, are just a few of the recent headline grabbers which have resulted in reform of in-house legal teams and rationalisation of panels. The size of panels is inconsistent. HSBC’s, for example, consists of more than 20 firms, among them Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Linklaters & Alliance, Norton Rose and Eversheds, while earlier this year Canada’s largest bank, Toronto-Dominion, slashed its 20-strong panel to just two players, Linklaters and Norton Rose.

Firms have to be seen to be confident in their understanding of the industry, according to many of those who are responsible for outsourcing work.

“We do not want textbook answers. We want business-minded firms,” said Alliance & Leicester’s head of legal Kathrine Hughes.

But there seems to be no consistency when it comes to choosing between regional and City firms. Peter Jones, head of legal at Bank Austria Creditanstalt International’s London office, instructs City firms “because they are usually the best”. But Ann Page, head of legal at the Co-operative Bank, said: “Regional firms do a lot of things just as well and are better value for money. They know the market and you as a person.”