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Banking

Are Barclay's days of empire over?

To be one of the world's top commercial banks requires a first class international network, highly professional managers, a strong investment bank and a stable domestic banking business. Barclays can't yet boast all of these.

Large marble pillars dominate the entrance to Barclays Bank's 54 Lombard Street headquarters. A crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling. And across from the main reception desk, a gently cascading fountain completes the impression of opulence. Visiting bankers are ushered to their appointments by liveried porters, their uniforms little changed from the days of Francis Augustus Bevan who helped found the bank in 1896 and was its first chairman.

Set in what looks like gold leaf on the floor are three eagles. They commemorate historic events. The first records the origin of the black, spread eagle as the bank's symbol. The second marks the foundation of Barclays' international ventures. And the third eagle recalls the foundation of Barclays French subsidiary, Cox & Co., in 1914. From a distance the eagles are impressive emblems of Barclays' power. But on closer inspection it's obvious the coloru is fading and the feathers are frayed. The same raggedness is true of the bank. As a London bank analyst unkindly put it: "Barclays' strategy is in tatters".

Yet Barclays' senior managers have great plans for their bank in the second half of the 1980s. Their ambition is to build on Barclays' strong position in Britain and change it into a global entity on a par with Citicorp and the biggest Japanese banks.

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