A sunnier outlook for Barclays

There was anger at the annual general meeting after the bank's annus horribilis, but a few smiles too. Nick Goodway saw the new faces make a decent impression

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The Independent Online

Twelve months ago shareholders battled with their umbrellas with the rain poured down on them as they struggled across from Waterloo station to the Barclays annual meeting at the Royal Festival Hall.

Even the protesters dressed as eagles and riding Boris bikes (sponsored by Barclays) found the garlands of fake banknotes around their necks turned rapidly into papier-mâché.

The mood inside the meeting matched the weather. Shareholders were angry. They barracked the directors, led by then chairman Marcus Agius. They voted in their thousands against a pay report which handed then chief executive Bob Diamond £17.7m in pay, perks and bonuses.

Yesterday the sun shone on the South Bank. The protesters whose point about Barclays speculating on food prices had been missed last year stuck baguettes in their bicycle baskets to make it clear.

Investors were almost as keen to collect their takeaway lunch bags and picnic on the bank of the Thames as they were to ask questions. One even joked: "I am expecting to see Sir [sic] Diamond here as a private shareholder." No chance.

They were still very angry about pay, but they were also prepared to give the new chairman, Sir David Walker, and new chief executive, Antony Jenkins, a fair hearing. And even, towards the end of the two-hour-plus meeting, they managed to laugh along with their 73-year-old chairman when he noted that "most of you here are younger than me".

The year on which yesterday's meeting was reflecting, 2012, was truly Barclays' annus horribilis. It was fined £290m by regulators on both sides of the Atlantic for its role in the Libor rigging scandal. It had to increase the amount of money set aside for mis-selling payment protection to £2.5bn and make new provisions of just over £814m for mis-selling interest rate swaps to small businesses.

Messrs Agius and Diamond made increasingly fraught appearances in front of MPs as the Treasury Select Committee demanded to know why they continued to pay bankers so much even when they had been behaving badly. Eventually they both had to go, and Barclays decided that Mr Jenkins, former head of Barclays' retail operations, was the man to rebuild the shattered bank.

It is looking to have been a good choice. Mr Jenkins has acted quickly, and he continues to act. In February he unveiled his strategy to transform the bank. Last week he oversaw the departures of two of the highest-paid remaining old guard staff – Rich Ricci, head of investment banking, and Tom Kalaris – without payoffs. This week he revealed a 25 per cent fall in first-quarter profits, but almost all that came from the £500m costs so far of restructuring to shrink the investment bank in Asia and the retail bank in Europe.

Walking into the meeting, shareholders were pretty much unanimous as to their approval for what he has done thus far.

Mr Jenkins has a distinct advantage over Mr Diamond, and it is not just the size of his pay packet. He is slightly nondescript. You wouldn't glance at him twice in the street. His teeth lack the impossibly white gleam of Mr Diamond's American dentistry. In short, Mr Jenkins looks like a bank manager. Indeed, he appeared to be wearing a Barclays blue uniform tie. But then who else would you want running a bank than a bank manager?

Sir David, by contrast, is every inch a City man. But unlike his predecessor, Mr Agius, he is not the brash investment banker who made his fortune in the 1990s and 2000s. He is a true City grandee. He chaired the meeting perched on a stool – a bit like the comedian Dave Allen. This gave him a height advantage over the rest of the board, who sat conventionally on chairs, but it also made it very clear who was in charge.

His manner was almost avuncular. His eyebrows were frequently raised, and when one shareholder asked him to make Barclays' staff study commercial history, his eyes were raised to Heaven before deftly handing the question to Mr Jenkins.

They still faced the wrath, the two of them. Joan Woollard, a 76-year-old widow who said she lives on £726 a month, said any banker "who needs £1m a month is a greedy bastard".

Her fellow shareholders loved it and applauded. Sir David noted the support she attracted, but told her that Barclays, while being part of the industry which has allowed "excessive pay", had to get the balance between "moderation and attracting the best people in a highly competitive market".

He listened to the poverty lobbyists and told them that Barclays had stopped serving clients who used the food commodities markets simply for speculation. He pointed out that Mr Diamond, when he left, had given up some £20m of future bonuses. But he also declared that when he joined Barclays last year, "I determined that my focus would be on the future not the past."

Several times he used the phrase: "We must show that we can walk the walk, not just talk the talk."

When it came to the votes, shareholders – almost one third of whom had voted against the remuneration report last year – overwhelmingly backed the board. And the election of Sir David as chairman received a staggering 99.6 per cent approval.

When one shareholder accused the board of having presented them with a "complete sham at last year's meeting", Sir David responded: "With much respect I was not here then. But I can assure you that you may come back and ask us if we have delivered next year. And I am determined that we will be able to answer in the affirmative."

You can bet they will be back, Sir David. Bankers have not been forgiven but, just perhaps, Barclays is beginning to turn the mood slightly.