Macaskill on markets: Jenkins fetishizes risible rhetoric and meaningless marketing

By:
Jon Macaskill
Published on:

The new CEO of Barclays takes on the role of chief slogan and acronym officer, and, unfortunately, RISES to the challenge by highlighting the bank's Purpose and Values, while ignoring how it will all work in practice.

Antony Jenkins, the new CEO of Barclays, started the process of notifying investment bank staff that they face job cuts ahead of the formal unveiling of his restructuring of the bank in February. Unfortunately there is no sign that he will eliminate the role of chief slogan and acronym officer, having apparently adopted the position himself. Jenkins tried to set the tone for the year by delivering a lengthy memo to staff in January about how he intends to turn Barclays into the ‘go-to’ bank. And he does not mean the go-to bank for when you want to fix a Libor setting or exploit loopholes in tax laws with a highly structured credit transaction. Instead Jenkins wants his employees to buy into his new Purpose and Values, which he underscored with capital letters, like a teenager sending a very important text, though at much greater length.

The Purpose is "helping people to achieve their ambitions – in the right way". This seems at once extremely, well... ambitious and virtually meaningless. "The phrase ‘in the right way’ is a critical qualifier to our intent to help people achieve their ambitions," Jenkins added, in an apparent attempt to add some clarity.

He then added five Values, which were also deemed important enough to qualify for capital letters. The Values are: Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence and Stewardship.

Together these values form the acronym RISES, which is presumably the goal for Barclays and ties in with the bank’s retention of its eagle logo. Jenkins made virtually no effort to tie these values into examples of how they will work in practice in the day-to-day business of working for a universal bank with a big investment banking arm. Instead the values appear to be platitudes that were expanded upon with rhetorical flourishes that would have made former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s speech writers such as Alastair Campbell either blush or demand a royalty payment.

For example, Jenkins said that Integrity "requires us to have the courage always to do the right thing, never tolerating the wrong thing". Stewardship "is about being determined to leave things better than we found them". This is not a reference just to the toilets. Rather Barclays staff must "improve the way we operate as an organization and the impact we have on society". Jenkins added that staff would be required to abide by these values "not just most of the time, but all of the time. Not just for most of us, but for everyone who works at Barclays."

As if to underscore that this will not just be an exercise in aligning aspirational slogans with website-ready acronyms, but is also a genuine waste of time and money, Jenkins added that over a thousand "colleagues" will be trained to explain the importance of the new set of values to every single other colleague.

Some of the experienced investment bankers who were flushed out of Barclays after former CEO Bob Diamond and his deputy Jerry del Missier were fired in the wake of the Libor scandal must now be thanking their lucky stars they don’t have to sit through values training sessions under the new regime. Other bankers facing the chop might view their fate with greater equanimity.

The reaction of clients to this attempted rebranding by Barclays as the boy scouts of the banking world is harder to predict and ultimately will be more important. Clients do not want to be ripped off by their bankers or worry that prices are being fixed, of course. But they do expect smart solutions to be delivered on a timely and efficient basis by banks, which helps to explain why so many clients stick with Goldman Sachs, despite its well-known focus on its own trading interests. A Barclays run by a retail banker with an apparent fetish for meaningless marketing slogans might find that it loses traction with investment banking clients.