Barclays' bankers: No longer the Wayne Rooneys of finance

Barclays CEO Jenkins is different. He has a vision of a more ethical and socially responsible bank, writes Cooper.

Story highlights

  • Pre-crisis Barclays was run very much like the premier league football teams, writes Cooper
  • Barclays CEO Anthony Jenkins acknowledged that the bank's profitability was still too low
  • Jenkins promises that overall total pay as a percentage of group revenue will fall in years to come

Antony Jenkins at Barclays is the one new British bank chief executive who wants to revolutionize the organization he has inherited. Stephen Hester at RBS has had to focus on fire-fighting the disasters left to him, and predominantly left corporate culture well alone.

But Jenkins is different. He has a vision of a more ethical and socially responsible bank. At the time of his appointment, much was made of his retail banking background and of the fact that he had chaired the executive ethics committee. At his presentation Tuesday, Jenkins has lived up to that reputation.

This is a man on a mission.

In the boom times, Barclays was run very much like the premier league football teams that it sponsors -- for the benefit of top players and not the owners.

Louise Cooper, of Cooper City

Barclays' controversial former chief executive, Bob Diamond, resigned last July after the bank was hammered by the Libor scandal.

Read more: Barclays bank CEO Diamond resigns amid scandal

A startling statistic alleged by this week's critical BBC documentary was that over 2010/2011, when bonuses awarded reached £6 billion, payments to shareholders were only £1.4 billion.

The investment bankers were the Wayne Rooneys, Carlos Tevezs, Fernando Torres' of finance. But this is to change (at least at Barclays). Total pay and bonuses fell 20% in 2012 in the investment banking division.

And Jenkins promises that overall total pay as a percentage of group revenue will fall in the years to come. The glory days of huge bonuses are over.

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At the same time, awards to shareholders are increasing with Jenkins promising an "aggressive" dividend payment plan. Quite clearly the split of profits between investment bank employees and shareholders will move to favoring investors.

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But then I hear the classic city wail that Barclays can never compete against the big investment banks if it doesn't "pay up for talent."

Read more: Why interest rate scandal may bring real change

Well let's just remind ourselves of the disaster that "talent" created.

In his presentation Jenkins acknowledged that the bank's profitability was still too low and he warned that it would be suppressed for at least another few years until 2015.

As the financial crisis began in 2007/8, profitability has been destroyed for the best part of a decade. That is alarming value destruction and shows the ephemeral nature of many of these profits to begin with. So much for top talent.

The big question though is clearly whether Barclays is going to change? Jenkins is clearly talking the talk but is he walking the walk?

The first requirement for a change is for the old toxic bosses to go and a new team put in place. That has happened now at most British banks.

Secondly, the new boss needs a vision of the firm he wants to create and then must communicate it widely.

This Jenkins is doing. In particular, the decision to close the Structured Capital Markets division is highly symbolic. This is the business reported by the BBC to have had just 100 employees making £1 billion a year profit by helping Barclays' clients aggressively avoid tax.

At a time when Barclays desperately needs black ink, an exceedingly successful unit is to close. This is a big signal from the new boss -- profit is no longer protection from unethical behavior.

Next though comes the hard work. Year and years of carrot and stick to persuade employees and managers of the new world order. It requires Jenkins take the organization with him in his mission.

And this will be a long hard slog.

Sadly this will take years, as bad behavior spreads like wildfire through an organization and yet good behavior takes forever to develop.

Any new broom needs to sweep out the filth from the previous regime.

Jenkins and his new team still have questions to answer about the past. Not least on how much Bob Diamond was actually paid but also about the emergency fund raising in 2008 where Barclays turned to Arab investors rather than the British government.

"We know that we will be judged by our actions, not our words," says Jenkins. Well I suggest that only with a full acknowledgment of past mistakes can Barclays move forward.

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