Barclays' 'culture of pushing the limits'

 

Libor scandal: Del Missier 'instructed' by Bob Diamond

Jerry del Missier's evidence to MPs, coupled with that of Andrew Bailey of the FSA, reinforced what many will see as a depressing picture of Barclays as a giant global bank with pockets of severe rot in its culture.

The former number two at the bank - who resigned just under a fortnight ago - said that he was unaware of systematic lying over several years about the interest rates the bank was paying by traders who worked for him.

For Mr del Missier, this represented "control failures" on his and the bank's part.

He also revealed that when the bank's compliance officers - its internal policeman - were told in the autumn of 2008 by the money-market desk that the Bank of England had instructed Barclays to understate its borrowing costs, none of those internal policemen bothered to check out whether such an instruction had actually been given.

As for the FSA's Mr Bailey, he said that earlier this year he lost patience with what he saw as a habit at Barclays of gaming the rules, or trying to get round them by sticking to the letter but not the spirit.

Mr Bailey said of Barclays: "There was a problem with this institution and the problem came from the tone at the top".

Start Quote

I relayed the content of the conversation I had with Mr Diamond and fully expected the Bank of England views would be fully incorporated in the Libor submission”

End Quote Jerry del Missier Former Barclays executive's evident to MPs

The FSA's chairman, Lord Turner, saw this problem as "a cultural tendency to be always pushing" the limits of the rules.

Mr Bailey agreed that meant Bob Diamond, who recently resigned as chief executive of Barclays, was not taking sufficient steps to clean up the bank.

What for many will be the most striking element of Mr del Missier's testimony was his clear recollection that Bob Diamond, in a telephone call, had passed on an instruction from the Bank of England to lie about the interest rates Barclays was paying.

That is world's apart from what Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England, says he conveyed to Mr Diamond - and differs from Mr Diamond's recollection. Both deny that any such instruction was given.

MPs were understandably bemused by how there could be such extraordinary misunderstandings of such a highly sensitive issue by three such senior City figures.

As for the FSA, there is an apparent contradiction between its lecturing of Barclays to clean up its culture earlier this year and the approval it gave for the promotion of Mr del Missier to be Barclays' number two. That approval was given just days before Barclays incurred record fines and penalties for Libor wrongdoing - which in turn prompted Mr del Missier to resign.

Some will say that shows the FSA is not, to use the cliche, a joined-up organisation, since it was aware Barclays would be severely punished for lying about interest rates.

But, of course, the embarrassment is greatest for Barclays, which is fast losing what is as important to a bank as capital to absorb losses, namely a reputation for integrity and competence.

Unsurprisingly, Barclays' shareholders and regulators are telling the banks' board that in replacing its chairman and chief executive, one of those important jobs must be filled by an outsider.

 
Robert Peston, economics editor Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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