Abigail with attitude: Africa in for Diamond, Asia out for Barclays

Abigail Hofman
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Returning to the category of imperial CEOs, most would agree that Bob Diamond, the former Barclays chief, was an earlier poster boy: a Do-it-my-way-or-take-the-highway kind of boss.

Diamond’s successor, Antony Jenkins, doesn’t come across in the same mould. Jenkins is more of the hand-wringing, Let-us-do-penance-for-our-sins type of bank leader.

A mole in Asia reports that clients are increasingly questioning whether or not Barclays’ investment bank has the appetite to be a big player in Asian capital markets. I even heard a rumour that some clients are asking questions such as: "If we give you this mandate, will you even be around to do the deal in six months’ time?"

When Jenkins set out his new strategy for the bank in early 2013, he talked about wanting a presence in three key areas: the UK, the US and Africa. The big A, as in Asia, was missing. To me this seems eminently sensible. After all, Asia is an over-investment banked region and fees tend to be on the skinny side. As one senior banker told me: "Asia is all about jam tomorrow." Jenkins is much more focused on the bread and butter of today.

And talking of Bob Diamond, market participants are chattering about an interview with the former Barclays chief, which appeared in the New York Times in early May. Diamond was associated with the UK bank for over 15 years and, during that period, helped turn the bank from a sleepy UK retail shop to a top-10 global universal bank, making himself hugely wealthy in the process. "Diamond really was a modern-day Midas," a mole opined.

The writer of the piece, Andrew Ross Sorkin, talks about Diamond’s spectacular fall and how he has gone from being "one of the highest-ranking and highest-paid bankers in Britain to a guy who takes the subway to [an] office in exile and waits in line for his coffee at a cart on Park Avenue".

Diamond, a relatively youthful 61-year-old, is apparently planning a second chapter. He is to found a niche merchant bank that will focus on opportunities in Europe and Africa. You can’t fault the concept: for a while now, I have believed that Africa is the place for financiers to be.

And judging by a flight a friend took back from Lagos to London the other week, Bob needs to get out to Africa double quick. I am told flights to and from Nigeria tend to fill from the front – almost everyone turns left, rather than right. My friend, supposedly flying business class, was put into the economy seats because the business and first was so full. Her problem was that she had only a silver loyalty card – everyone else flew gold.