Thursday, April 04, 2013

Barclays suffered from "at all costs" attitude, according to report it commissioned

From the New York Times DealBook yesterday, Report Faults ‘At All Costs’ Attitude at Barclays:
LONDON – The push to change Barclays from a predominantly British retail bank to a global financial giant over the last two decades created a culture that put profit before customers, according to a report released on Wednesday.
The independent review, which was ordered by the bank’s top management in the wake of a rate-rigging scandal last year, highlighted an “at all costs” attitude, particularly within the firm’s investment bank, that was reinforced by a bonus system that encouraged taking risks over serving clients.
The conclusions represent a criticism of the strategy of a former chief executive of Barclays, Robert E. Diamond Jr., who helped transform the British firm into one of the world’s largest investment banks.
“Barclays became complex to manage,” said the report, which was overseen by Anthony Salz, former head of the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. “The culture that emerged tended to favor transactions over relationships, the short term over sustainability and financial over other business purposes.”
Mr. Diamond, who stepped down last year in the aftermath of the scandal involving manipulation of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, ran the bank’s investment banking operations until taking over as chief executive in 2011.
There's no mention of the Barclays Center, but it's clear that the naming rights deal signed in January 2007 emerged at a time when Barclays, and Diamond, were in growth mode, including in the U.S.

The "letter" of the rules, not the spirit

The Salz Review suggests that, even if laws were not broken, Barclays played by "the letter rather than the spirit of the rules":
8.25 If winning was a stated value, then ‘cleverness’ was an unstated – but equally strong – one. They were somewhat related. Barclays undoubtedly hired clever people. For the investment bank, this was the key to its success. Cleverness manifested itself in the way the team clearly built a very successful business on the back of a well thought through strategy. But the cleverness showed through in other ways described elsewhere in this report: the tendency to take robust positions with regulators, to determine its position by the letter rather than the spirit of the rules, and in the ‘edgy’ way it pushed its own business agenda. Winning through intellectual power and single-mindedness was key to the investment bank’s considerable success, both in building revenue through effective competition and in avoiding some – though not all – of the mistakes that others made.
(Emphasis added)


From the report, a partial timeline of growth
The totals in the ovals represent the total number of Barclays employees
From the report, the record in Africa
Activities in both South Africa and Zimbabwe drew criticism

Note

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