The hypocrisy of banking and the misdirected cull


Abigail Hofman
Published on:

I would like to refrain from carping from the sidelines, but I can’t help myself. Is there not the tiniest bit of hypocrisy in Saint Antony’s finger-wagging? After all, Jenkins was a close colleague of his now unpopular predecessor, Bob Diamond. Before ascending to the chief executive throne, Jenkins ran Barclays’ retail and business banking division. He was appointed to this role in November 2009 and thus became caught up in the tail end of the payment protection insurance scandal. Banks were found to have been selling insurance to clients who had no need of it. To date, Barclays has set aside some £2.6 billion to compensate customers.

However, if I recall correctly, Jenkins was not a leader in this field. In fact, Barclays was a bit of a wallflower at the ‘let’s make our customers whole’ party. Wasn’t it Lloyds’ chief executive, António Horta-Osório, who horrified his peers in May 2011 by announcing that Lloyds would take a £3.2 billion write-down to cover its PPI liability. "It is the sensible, prudent and right thing to do," Horta-Osório said at the time.

What was Saint Antony doing then? Was he on the side of the angels? I don’t believe so. I think Barclays along with the British Bankers’ Association, was squabbling with the FSA about their liability to refund customers.

Another thing that irks me is that, despite much pontificating about changing the culture at the investment bank, the top managers are still the old guard. Think chief Rich Ricci – of whom one mole mouthed "a Lazarus–like resurrection"; Eric Bommensath and Skip McGee. Ricci, for example, was named chief operating officer of Barclays Capital in 2005 and co-chief executive in 2009. So effectively much of the Libor rigging occurred on his watch.

Excuse me for asking, but wouldn’t the compliance department (which seemed woefully inadequate) have reported to the chief operating officer? "No one in authority knew what was going on," a spokesperson says. "Libor-fixing was seen as a very low-risk activity."

According to the Financial Times, in early 2011 Rich Ricci took home close to £40 million, (salary, bonus and LTIP award for 2010, as well as shares released under previous long-term incentive awards). Will any of that be clawed back as a drop in the ocean to pay the £290 million fines levied by various regulatory authorities in regard to the Libor scandal?

Other close and well-paid lieutenants of Diamond linger on the Barclays corporate and investment banking executive committee: Robert Morrice, John Winter and Hans-Joerg Rudloff are three names that jump out. All have worked at the bank for over 10 years. "It will take an awful lot of re-education to change the mind-set of that lot," mole scoffed.

Mole might be unfair – after all leopards can change their spots and perhaps crony capitalist investment bankers can get religion. But drawing a line under the past? A complete change of culture? Please don’t talk nonsense.

In case devoted readers have missed it, the UK authorities are not done with Barclays. Rather insensitively, they keep delving into the past. In particular, they seem intrigued by the controversial capital raisings that Barclays undertook in 2008. All sorts of allegations are being bandied about. In the worst case, one could be talking about fraud and market abuse.

However, I wonder whether the UK authorities will be able to bring charges against any former or current Barclays individuals. After all, the investors who injected capital into Barclays in 2008 included the Qataris, and is it really a good idea to ruffle the Qataris’ feathers when they are such big investors in the UK? Could Barclays’ executives be penalized without implicating the Qataris? I doubt it, so the probe might come to nothing. Nevertheless, Saint Antony might not find it easy to turn the page on Barclays’ past.

Just to emphasize what an unfair world it is, over at RBS John Hourican, head of markets and international banking, has been beheaded and thrown to the lions. In February, RBS was fined £390 million by regulators for its part in the Libor rate-fixing scandal. Hourican, a former accountant and ABN Amro executive, seems to have been a long way from the Libor trading desk during the period when the rate-rigging occurred. I am bemused as to why he is being made to walk the plank while Peter Nielsen, who ran that area, as head of markets, is still at his desk.

I like Hourican, who has done a good job of refocusing the sprawling investment bank under the worst of circumstances. When Hourican leaves, his role will be split between three men: Suneel Kamlani, Peter Nielsen and John Owen, who will all report directly to chief executive Stephen Hester. I’m not sure that this diffusion of responsibility will be in the taxpayers’ interest. Anyway, I look forward to seeing where Hourican surfaces next.