Brian Pitman dies at 78; prominent British retail banker

Brian Pitman, the banker who led Lloyds TSB to become one of Europe's largest financial groups, died in London on Thursday following a heart attack earlier in the week. He was 78.

Pitman joined Lloyds Bank in 1952 and served as chief executive from 1983 to 1997, moving up to chairman from 1997 to 2001.


He built Lloyds from a small bank to one of Europe's largest through acquisitions and the merger with TSB Bank PLC in 1995.

Pitman was conservative in his approach, shunning investment banking and giving up on international expansion after losses in a sovereign debt crisis in Latin America.

"Sir Brian was a truly inspirational leader who contributed an enormous amount to Lloyds over many years," said Eric Daniels, chief executive of the now part-nationalized Lloyds Banking Group. "He was a towering figure in our industry and was involved in many of the major changes that have shaped the banking sector."

Pitman refused to expand into investment banking and concentrated on retail banking. In a 1999 Bloomberg News article, he said he wouldn't touch investment banks "with a barge pole" because they engage in risky businesses and their payrolls create higher pay demands among retail bank employees. "I think his greatest achievement was keeping Lloyds out of investment banking, and, as a result, making Lloyds the preeminent retail bank in the U.K.," said David Buik, a London-based analyst at BGC Partners.

Pitman decided the best place for shareholders' money was in a large domestic bank specializing in low-risk consumer-based products whose income would be repeated annually. "He had old-fashioned values in some respects, and for periods they would have appeared slightly out of date," said Simon Willis, a bank analyst at NCB Stockbrokers. "Post-credit crisis, that appears eminently sensible."

Pitman said in an interview last month that banks have "de-skilled" their branches, seeking to save money by stripping them of people with the expertise and authority to grant loans.

"The culture of banking has completely changed; it's less personal now," Pitman said. "We need to go back to the 1950s model of banking where people know their bank manager. There is an opportunity for anyone who can do that."

Pitman remained active after standing down at Lloyds. He recently was appointed chairman of Virgin Money, was an advisor to Morgan Stanley International and served on the boards of Singapore Airlines, Tomkins and Carphone Warehouse. He also was an advisor to the Financial Services Authority.

Pitman was born Dec. 13, 1931, in Cheltenham, west of London. He didn't go to a university.

He said his business drive stemmed from infancy; he was 9 weeks old when his father died. "Anyone who loses a father takes on responsibility quite quickly," he said. "It made me self-reliant."

Pitman is survived by his wife, Barbara; two sons; and a daughter.