Barclays Wealth revelations – response from Taylor Wessing

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In response to the revelations that a senior executive suppressed a damaging report into Barclays Wealth, Alix Prentice, partner in the financial services regulatory team at international law firm Taylor Wessing, predicts that the bank may face action from a UK regulator increasingly focused on suitability and client risk appetite.

“It is fair to say that phrases such as 'maverick culture' and 'out of control' do not sit well when read in conjunction with any financial service business.

"However, where the phrases are applied to private banking and wealth management, as is the case in the critical report on Barclays Wealth, the result is particularly jarring, given that the relationship between client and banker is founded on trust and understanding of the client’s objectives.
Alix Prentice, partner in the financial services regulatory team at Taylor Wessing
“While the original report on Barclays Wealth focused on alleged problems within its New York operation, the overall issue of risk is certainly not a new topic on the Financial Services Authority’s (FSA) agenda. The FSA has already flagged risk as an issue in its thematic work on wealth management, focusing on managers' understanding of suitability and client risk appetite.

"Once you combine this ongoing focus of the FSA with reports of a bank’s 'hostility to regulation and prioritisation of sales at all costs, the upshot may be serious consequences for Barclays. This is likely to come from two directions: both at the hands of the regulators and from Private Wealth customers who consider that their risk profiles were not sufficiently taken into account.

“The timing is of course unfortunate. Antony Jenkins, Barclays’ group chief executive, has made some laudable statements looking at customer care and attitude in an attempt to repair the damage of the Libor-fixing scandal and the resignation of his predecessor. Indeed, even the very idea of a 'cultural audit' is appealing.

"However, ascribing the contents of this damning report to past mores may not be sufficient to protect Barclays from yet more enforcement action and customer litigation.”