How Barclays chiefs tried but failed to keep their names quiet

Barclays’ wealth unit alleged to pursue a "revenue at all costs strategy".

It has been quite a week for the overworked press and PR teams at Barclays, and the past seven days have offered a goldmine of stories for Barclays’ watchers.

The latest comedy cuts story featuring Barclays relates to its publicity shy executives and former-execs such as former CEO Bob Diamond applying - and mercifully failing – to keep their names out of a London Inter-Bank Offer Rate (LIBOR) rate-rigging court claim.

This scandal, including claims that Barclays’ traders tried to fix LIBOR to their advantage to maximise their bonuses, is toxic for Barclays’ tarnished reputation: it has already held its hands up and coughed up a fine of £290m.

So now, thanks to Mr Justice Flaux, we know that Diamond, former chief operating officer Jerry del Missier, Mark Dearlove, head of Barclays’ money-market desk and Stephen Morse, former head of compliance, are on a list of 104 bankers who wished to be given anonymity in the first UK trial with relevance to the rigging of the benchmark interest rate.

As Mr. Justice Flaux said: “The cat is out of the bag…….it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to work out who they are.”

Trying and failing to gain anonymity in this case merely makes Diamond look even more foolish than was previously thought possible.

This, after all, is the banker who accepted Barclays’ ridiculous decision to award him 80 per cent of his maximum possible bonus in 2011, despite Barclays missing its financial targets and witnessing a 35 per cent fall in its share price in 2011.

This week started with Barclays’ press office trying to place a positive spin on Antony Jenkins, Diamond’s successor as CEO, plans to introduce a culture of ethical behaviour. He said that bankers had pursued short-term profits at the expense of the reputation of the bank: Gosh, really?

Jenkins will say more on 12 February when he reveals a strategic plan: bank speak for how to increase profits with fewer staff.

Already, several thousand Barclays’ employees face an uncertain future as the bank has kicked off a consultation process as part of a formal review of its 23,000-strong investment banking unit.

Barclays’ watchers expect between 2,000 and 3,000 staff to be axed as part of Jenkins’ strategic plan.

The week continued with news that Andrew Tinney, formerly COO of Barclays’ wealth management unit, had left the bank following allegations that he tried to keep secret a report on the how his business unit went about its business.

The report did not make for pleasant reading; surprise, surprise, it alleged that Barclays’ wealth unit pursued a "revenue at all costs strategy" and that there was a culture of fear and intimidation.

There are at least two positives from this weeks events at Barclays.

The first is that Royal Bank of Scotland - next in the LIBOR firing line as it awaits details of the level of the fine it is to pay - is unlikely to be daft enough to seek anonymity for its executives implicated in the LIBOR scandal.

The second plus for Barclays PR team is that the week is almost over.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

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The polls appear positive for Remain but below the surface the picture is less rosy

If you take out the effect of the drift towards phone polling, the last month has seen an improvement in the Remain vote of just 1 per cent. 

The last couple of weeks have looked very good for the Remain campaign – the polls have moved in their direction, the media focus has been on their home-ground issue of the economy, and Leave have had to concede the trade argument and move on to something else.

But, beneath the surface, the picture is less bright. Each of those strengths is somewhat illusory.

While the polls appear to have become more positive, most of the change is a result of shifts in what pollsters are doing, not what the people they poll are thinking.

Analysis by Professor John Curtice shows that early in the campaign just 1 in 7 polls was conducted by phone. Now it is up to 1 in 3.

This makes a big difference to how the race appears because phone polls consistently show much bigger Remain leads. If you take out the effect of this drift towards phone polling, the last month has seen an improvement in the Remain vote of just 1 per cent.  Internet polls are still showing a tied race, compared to a 10 point lead for Remain back in February 2015. All the advantages of incumbency and cross-party support are not shifting the numbers.

Remain’s dominance of the media agenda is also more a function of circumstance that it may appear.

Part of it comes through the use of the civil service machine to generate stories, something every incumbent has the right to do. That advantage ends today as election rules kick in which legally prohibit the government from producing pro-Remain news. The civil servants who did everything from crank out Treasury analysis to plug in Barack Obama’s microphone will have to twiddle their thumbs till the end of June.

The other reason Remain was able to keep the focus on the economy was that Leave wanted the spotlight there too. The defining feature of the official leave campaign was its desire to neutralize Remain’s lead on the economy so that people can afford to vote on issues like immigration and sovereignty.

Leave have clearly failed in that aim. Their pro-trade arguments ran aground when President Obama said a post-Brexit Britain would be ‘at the back of the queue’ for such deals, and they have not found a way back. Remain have restored their dominance of the economy, which for a time looked shaky. Just as importantly, the proportion who say the economy is key to their decision is up 17 points since February, and it now outranks immigration in Comres’ data.

The question is whether that increased salience of the economy will persist or not.

The next few weeks will not see the same convergence of agenda. Leave were always going to focus on immigration at the end of the campaign. They hoped to do that from a position of strength but they will be doing it out of weakness - either way, the effect is the same.

The palate of issues is about to broaden. Broadcasters will no longer be able to run a single story saying “today Remain said leaving was bad for the economy, while Leave said it wasn’t”. Instead the news will have to balance a range of issues including immigration – and so the terrain will shift to help Leave.

Remain have done nothing to try and close down Leave’s strongest issues, and now it is too late. Their plan from here on in has to be to try and make risk, and in particular economic risk, the only thing at the front of voters’ minds.

The next few weeks will be the real test for both campaigns. If Remain can keep the focus on the economy, they should glide home comfortably, and their media team will deserve enormous praise. But if Leave can shift the agenda, perhaps aided by incidents that inflame the tabloids and force broadcasters to pay attention to the issue in the same way voters do, then things could still move towards Brexit.

James Morris is a partner at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and worked as a pollster for Ed Miliband during his time as Labour leader.