ROYAL Bank of Scotland owner NatWest Group has this morning posted an operating pre-tax loss of £351 million for 2020, as provisions for bad debts linked to the coronavirus pandemic weighed on the bottom line.

The state-owned bank booked net impairment losses of around £3.2 billion for the year ended December 31. However, its provisions were lower than the £3.5bn to £4.5bn previously guided. Chief executive Alison Rose noted that the provisions were forward looking and declared that the level of defaults experienced by the bank remains "benign".

Ms Rose said the bank had put in a “resilient” performance: “The past year presented some extraordinary challenges for our customers, colleagues and communities. We provided exceptional levels of support to those who needed it, including the approval of over £14 billion of lending under UK Government schemes, demonstrating that we have truly put Our Purpose at the heart of this business.

READ MORE: Royal Bank owner linked with sale of private banking operation

"Being purpose-led isn’t just the right thing to do, it has a powerful commercial imperative and is fundamental to building sustainable value in our business. Despite reporting a loss for the year, NatWest Group delivered a resilient underlying performance in a challenging operating environment.”

The bank announced that its Ulster Bank business would carry out a “phased withdrawal” from the Republic of Ireland in the coming years, after a review found it "will not be able to generate sustainable long term returns for our shareholders."

Ms Rose said there would be no “compulsory departures or branch closures” in the Republic of Ireland this year as a result of the move. The withdrawal will not affect the Ulster Bank business in Northern Ireland.

NatWest said it would resume dividend payments following their suspension last year after the pandemic took hold, and is proposing an ordinary dividend of 3p per ordinary share. Ms Rose noted this would bethe maximum permitted by the Bank of England.

The bank said its loss attributable to ordinary shareholders for the year was £753m