Shareholders grumble about Barclays executives' rewards

 

The big investment institutions represented by the Association of British Insurers have issued what is known as an "amber top" alert on the forthcoming votes by shareholders at Barclays annual meeting.

I am told that serious thought was given to making the highest level of warning, a "red top" alert, because of concerns about how much and how senior Barclays executives are paid, but there was not the requisite unanimity among the big shareholders.

An amber top warning means that shareholders should consider carefully before voting as a company desires at the annual meeting, because of possible breaches of best practice by the company.

Even so, an influential investment manager tells me he expects a significant number of investors to vote against Barclays' remuneration report in a fortnight and against the re-election of the head of the remuneration committee, Alison Carnwarth.

There are two substantive issues for some investors.

First, they are unhappy about the special one-off payment of £5.7m to Bob Diamond to cover an increased tax liability he faces as a result of his relocation from New York to London. He moved to the UK when appointed chief executive of the bank.

But perhaps more importantly, a number of influential investors believe that Barclays is paying too much to its top investment bankers, as part of its strategy to develop a world-leading investment bank.

"Barclays wants to be the Barcelona of investment banking, top of a world premier league," said an influential investor. "The problem is that there have been no rewards for shareholders from those ambitions. So many investors would prefer it if Barclays could content itself being a Manchester United or Arsenal."

He said there was something of a stand-off between shareholders and the non-executives who are supposed to represent them on Barclays board. "They don't seem to get it," he said. "Barclays hasn't earned an economic return in its investment bank for years, and there is no sign of it doing so any time soon. And yet the bank persists with the current strategy."

The Barclays chairman, Marcus Agius, its chief executive, Bob Diamond, and the head of its remuneration committee, Alison Carnwarth, are all former investment bankers.

One investor told me there was concern among shareholders that the views of those outside the investment banking industry may not be adequately represented on Barclays' board.

 
Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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