Business is booming.

NatWest chief says mortgage demand remains strong

NatWest chief executive Alison Rose said mortgage demand remained strong with no “sign of stress” in the bank’s loan book, despite rising costs for borrowers.

Speaking at Goldman Sachs’ European financial conference on Thursday, Rose said the high street lender’s mortgage business was growing but noted an “increasing trend” towards five-year fixed-rate mortgages, as more borrowers sought to lock in rates for longer.

Rose said the bank had not yet picked up early warning signs from the loan book, such as an increase in revolving credit facilities or higher call volumes to financial support lines, but NatWest was “mindful” of inflation.

The rush by borrowers to beat further interest rate rises as inflation hits high levels has left UK lenders struggling to process new mortgage applications, with many withdrawing or repricing products.

Lloyds Bank, which has the largest share of UK mortgages, this week increased the rate on some of its fixed-rate home loans by up to 0.81 percentage points, according to finance website Moneyfacts.

Data from the Bank of England showed that UK mortgage approvals in April had fallen to the lowest level since June 2020, although analysts said demand for remortgaging remained strong.

In April, NatWest said it had referred 2,100 customers to charity Citizens Advice over the past year and had provided advice to 50,000 small business owners on how to deal with rising energy prices.

Rose noted that NatWest had “significant excess capital” and would consider acquisitions. The lender has a common equity tier one ratio — a measure of a bank’s reserve strength — of 15.2 per cent.

“I’ve been very clear that my preference is to distribute capital to shareholders,” she said. “I’ve also said we would look at M&A if it’s going to drive compelling shareholder value and our business continues to generate capital.”

Shares in the bank were trading almost flat on Thursday, but were 2.2 per cent lower in the year to date, having not fully returned to their levels before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The UK lender, formerly known as RBS, was majority owned by the government until March after a £46bn bailout at the height of the financial crisis.

Rose said it had capacity to expand the retail business, particularly in the credit card market, as well as the wealth division through acquisitions.

The lender is due to launch a buy now, pay later product in the summer, entering an increasingly competitive sector with fintechs, traditional lenders, neobanks and Big Tech entrant Apple.

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