Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Shares for TSB customers?

The collapse of Co-op's purchase of 632 Lloyds TSB branches throws up an intriguing new possibility - that the 4.6m customers of these branches could now become shareholders in their own bank.

And I wonder if they'll be offered shares at a discount or even as a windfall.

Why? The reason is that the route of selling the branch business, to be re-branded as TSB, to a rival has turned out to be a blind alley.

Instead, Lloyds says it will hive off  TSB as a free standing company and sell shares in it to City institutions and the public.

The share sale or Initial Public Offering (IPO) was always a backstop but now it's the favoured option. It has to be because there's nothing else very attractive on the table.

How will the shares be offered? Well, dangling some of them, on give-away terms, in front of the noses of customers could turn out to be an cunning way of rallying them behind the sale and the new bank.

The Lloyds TSB customers affected by the divestment have a right to feel disgruntled about the whole process. 3.5 million have already been sent letters telling them that their bank is changing.

No one likes being treated like baggage. Lloyds says very few have opted out of the transfer so far, but they could get disenchanted once the real changes begin over the summer.

So why not offer the 4.6m cut-price shares in their own bank?

And remember, when the original TSB was demutualised and sold off in 1986, people who bought the shares were given a loyalty bonus after 3 years of 1 extra share for every 10 held.

Lloyds says it's too early to say how the sell-off will be organised, but giving new TSB customers something to celebrate when the day comes could be a canny tactic.

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