Neighbours from hell

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Officials from the UK’s financial conduct authority (FCA) visited Barclays’ offices 186 times during 2014, according to a freedom of information request submitted by the UK’s Guardian newspaper. They visited HSBC 85 times, RBS 65 times and Lloyds 58 times.

Why the huge disparity in attention? Yes Barclays has large investment banking and credit card operations and has been a regular participant in most of the high profile scandals of recent years. 

But does this really warrant the bank being visited more than twice as much as HSBC, a bank that has a market cap nearly three times larger (€151.3 billion at the end of Q1 2015 versus Barclays’ €58 billion) and no stranger itself to bad publicity. Lloyds, which the FCA visited 128 fewer times than Barclays has a market cap €20 billion larger and was itself fined a record £117 million in June over mis-selling of PPI. 

So why does the FCA spend so much time at Barclays? Is there really that much more to investigate or does it just have better biscuits?

The answer may be simpler than that. The FCA is based at 25 The North Colonnade in London’s Canary Wharf, just up the road from…Barclays’ investment bank operations which reside at 5 The North Colonnade. (Barclays’ head office is a stone’s throw away at 1 Churchill Place). HSBC is also close by, whereas Lloyds and RBS still reside in the City of London, a traffic-clogged taxi, or unreliable tube, ride away.

We all hate travelling around London. Maybe FCA officials do too. Is John McFarlane busy scouting out for new office space in the City of London in addition to a new chief executive?