Barclays' corporate symbol is the blue eagle. Right now the bank looks more like a rabbit, blinking in the headlights. Its American chief executive, Bob Diamond, is sick and tired of the media giving him a hard time about his pay and has taken the decision to show it the two-fingered salute of his adopted country. The trouble is, this is one instance where the media's criticism is reflective of the public mood. In fact, were Mr Diamond to spend a day in disguise, listening to the conversations on the Clapham omnibus, he would likely come to the conclusion that he has got off quite lightly when it comes to the press.
Which is the least of his problems now, because the bank's investors have joined the party – and they cannot so easily be ignored.
With its annual meeting looming, Barclays could yet become one of the biggest and grandest victims of a "no" vote on a remuneration report.
It is in an attempt to counter this that the bank's silky smooth chairman, Marcus Agius, has embarked on what amounts to a public relations blitz with investors.
There won't be much eating done at the luncheons he will be sitting down to at the bank's headquarters. Hard talking is the dish of the day, and Mr Agius will say that a big helping of the millions Mr Diamond was paid this year is a holdover from his time as the boss of the investment bank Barclays Capital. Meanwhile that huge "tax equalisation" payment the dual US/British national received? A one-off. He will also listen to their criticisms and then nod his head, and say "we get it" in so many words.
The trouble is, what has become quite clear is that Barclays and its peers don't get it. At all. Investors are finally beginning to realise that. And they are finally beginning to ask why shareholders – who take much of Barclays' risk – don't see that reflected in their cut of its returns.
Based on that, it will take quite some gymnastics of the verbal kind on Mr Agius' part to explain why Mr Diamond's enormous bonus package was deserved in a year when, by his own admission, performance was poor.
Mr Agius is the consummate City performer, but even he might struggle to stave off a bloody nose after the votes are counted at the AGM.
As George Dallas, the corporate governance watchdog-in-chief at F&C Management, said yesterday, there is "a widespread and legitimate concern that high levels of bank remuneration have been enabled in a context of moral hazard, whereby sovereign governments serve as implicit guarantors of systemically important financial institutions".
In other words, if Barclays blows up, it is the taxpayers on that Clapham omnibus who will have to pay up.Reuse content