Perhaps Antonio Horta-Osorio had not quite grasped the size of the task he was taking on as chief executive at Lloyds Banking Group. Perhaps something was lost in translation from the Portuguese. Perhaps it’s just the sheer inertia of the colleagues he inherited. Whatever the reason for his health breaking down, the UK’s biggest domestic bank is now in deep trouble.

The giveaway here is that finance director Tim Tookey, who had already decided that a second division life company was a more attractive prospect than banking (and that’s saying something, too) steps up to acting chief executive until the boss returns. Lloyds couldn’t even draft a single press release to cover both events, leaving an awkward two-hour gap for the market to wonder who would get the hospital pass. Horta-Osorio will supposedly return before the year-end. Let’s hope that eight weeks off is long enough for a full recovery.

The interlude should give him the chance to reflect on the bank’s obligation to sell off branches. The self-imposed deadline has already passed, with bids far below Lloyds’ own estimate of the value of the package. Outside investors won’t put serious new capital into a sector where they have lost so much, and where nobody really believes the balance sheet values. The solution is to split the Lloyds behemoth, and give the Halifax to the shareholders. Despite everything, Halifax is still a respected name in the high street, and would provide an instant grown-up competitor.

That’s probably why Lloyds is so reluctant to do the splits. That, and its inability to organise so much as a coherent press release.

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