I can’t imagine any less comfortable a place these days than managing PR for a major UK bank. Checking the press cuttings each morning must be a chore best undertaken only after a hearty breakfast.  If it’s not an IT system collapsing and withholding cash from its rightful owner, it’s devil-may-care traders playing fast and loose with LIBOR rates.  An opportunity for a bit of good press must be like seeing a swallow in winter.   

Royal Bank of Scotland, [don’t forget to insert mandatory line about being 82 percent owned by the British taxpayer – ed], having been properly wrong-footed by its Geek Department, decided – probably rightly – that entertaining clients at Wimbledon, at a time when thousands of customers can’t pay bills or buy food for hungry children, was a risk best passed up.  They would also, no doubt, have been acutely aware that details of RBS’s role in Liborgate (if such a role exists) could break during the tournament.   So they cancelled Wimbledon.

Champagne and strawberries – sent back to cold storage

Still, cancelling would have been a difficult decision. The bill for hospitality, said to be in excess of £260,000 (the bank won’t confirm or deny this but it sounds reasonable) had already been paid. The package provided for 42 guests for each of the first nine days of the tournament and 24 guests for both the ladies’ and men’s finals days.  Invites had also been issued and the refreshments carefully selected and ordered.

Now, no RBS staff will attend to host any guests. The champagne, seafood roulade and strawberries have been returned to cold storage.  The already invited guests are free to use the tickets to watch the tennis and scavenge for refreshment among the various traders.  Given the likelihood that small business owners and punters considering a new mortgage provider won’t feature prominently on the guest list, it’s not clear now many of the invited guests, all on first name terms with a prawn sandwich, will appreciate the alternative DIY arrangements.

RBS could have uninvited their guests properly, explaining that in the changed circumstances they were no longer able to honour the invitations but would find an appropriate way to make up for the disappointment.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of entertaining opportunities this year.   This would have given the bank the opportunity to talk to Help for Heros, Carers UK or a host of other charities.  “Really sorry about the late notice,” they could have said, “but we’ve been idiots. Everyone deserves a break.  We want to acknowledge those who give to others and would really like 420 of your most deserving to come enjoy Wimbledon, on us.  We’ll pay the travel too.”

Cynical?  Perhaps.  But then ‘the people’s bank’ wouldn’t be a terrible positioning for RBS to try on for size and I’ll wager that the unsung and under-compensated bank employees taking abuse behind the counters wouldn’t disagree much either.  Game, set and match.