Is Diamond's in-tray a golden opportunity?

As the Barclays chief executive exits he leaves a trail of problems but a rare chance for his successor to turn around a global banking group. James Moore looks at the challenges to be faced

Golden cup or poisoned chalice? barely had the ink on Bob Diamond's resignation letter dried when bookmakers were pricing up the runners and riders in the race to succeed him as chief executive of Barclays. Whoever takes on the role will be set for life. While he or she probably won't enjoy a package to rival Mr Diamond's, they will still do pretty well out of the job.

What's more, if they can oversee a turnaround in Barclays' fortunes while restoring its tattered reputation, the world will be their oyster. It won't be easy to find a replacement, but the opportunity to run a truly global banking group, one of the biggest and most powerful financial institutions on the planet, doesn't come around very often.

Despite the bank's status as something of a political football, and the likelihood that bonuses will be harder to earn (and much easier to lose), whoever is appointed to lead the search will still have a decent pool of candidates to chose from, with Antony Jenkins, Barclays' head of retail banking, already tagged as the leading internal candidate. He certainly wants the job, having swiftly ruled himself out of the running for Lloyds Banking Group, presumably for that reason.

If it is him, or if Barclays decides to take a risk on an external candidate, these are the big issues piling up in the in-tray.

The law

The Libor scandal hasn't departed with Bob Diamond. It will be a fixture of life at Barclays for years to come. In the coming weeks, further fines above and beyond the £290m so far levied by British and US regulators could be coming from other watchdogs around the world. But that's only the start of it. Civil lawsuits have already been filed in the US, with lawyers still prospecting for clients. Individuals could argue that Barclays playing games with Libor meant they paid too much for loans, credit cards or mortgages if those products were priced off Libor. Then there are the businesses, small and large, that had loans linked to the rates. Some pension funds' investments may have been affected. Of course, the lawyers won't have it all their own way. Regulators have so far said Barclays' traders only attempted to manipulate Libor, they haven't suggested they succeeded. That could make it difficult for plaintiffs, who will need to prove that they suffered a loss as a result of Barclays' actions and show how much. But that won't stop the lawyers from fighting a case that promises to be expensive and time-consuming for Barclays' new big cheese.


There is no question Barclays has badly damaged its relations with virtually every external stakeholder. Shareholders, were already smarting over the grotesque pay packets handed to Mr Diamond and his lieutenants last year for performance he admitted was moderate. The latest revelations have seen the shares fall again, and the money to pay fines and settle lawsuits will come from their funds and not those of Mr Diamond and his friends.

Then there are Barclays' customers. The investment bank, from where the scandal came, may not suffer too much. Wealthy corporate clients tend to be rather blasé about such scandals. Goldman Sachs has been implicated in scandals every bit as rotten as the Libor affair – but when it comes to the league tables of M&A advisors, it has held its own.

Retail customers may be tougher nuts to crack. It's not good news for Barclays if people start saying: "Oh, you bank at Barclays. Ugh." Inertia may prevent the bank from losing too many current accounts, though, and in the current market borrowers will take what they can get. It won't hurt that rivals are hardly seen as whiter than white and that some of them are about to face fines of their own. Long term, though, there is work to be done here.

More dangerous, perhaps, for the new boss are the bank's relations with Government and the regulators, which are going to endure a battering over the next few days.

Eurozone crisis

This is the elephant in the room, the financial issue that eclipses all others. Barclays' little local difficulties might have wiped it off the front pages this week, but it is a racing certainty to be back with a vengeance by the end of the month. In terms of financial strength, Barclays is in reasonable shape. Its core tier one capital ratio was declared at 10.9 per cent in its first-quarter results, well ahead of minimum requirements. But Barclays is a global bank and that carries as many risks as it does rewards, not least in the bank's exposure to Europe's most troubled economies. Barclays is on the hook for just £90m in Greece. But that rises to £5bn in Ireland, £9.2bn in Portugal, £24.5bn in Italy and finally £25.7bn in Spain. This may prove to be the most pressing item facing the new chief executive.

The eurozone could make the financial crisis of a few years ago look like a blip and threaten not just Barclays' survival but the continent's banking industry. Pass the valium.

Cultural clean-up

The need for this was demonstrated by the devastating documents that were published by regulators. They exposed a toxic culture in which traders appeared to have no compunction about playing fast and loose with Libor interest rates for their own benefit regardless of the impact on their clients or, for that matter, on the bank.

One of the abiding images of the scandal is the email exchange between a Barclays trader and a colleague from outside the bank in which the colleague thanked the Barclays trader for lowering the bank's Libor submission, saying: "Dude. I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I'm opening a bottle of Bollinger."

Those involved in the scandal might have departed, but the perception in the wider world is that the warped values that allowed them to behave in this manner remain entrenched at Barclays.

That is dangerous for the bank because, if this is true, it will inevitably lead to future scandals and even more onerous penalties being levied upon the bank for failing to take action. But it is also deeply damaging to Barclays' reputation and may impact its business.

The trouble is that cleaning Barclays' Augean stables will not be easy, because it will require the bank to balance a drive to enhance profit with the need to behave ethically.

And it is far easier to allow such a damaging culture to take root than it is to excise it. As the new chief executive will soon discover.

Diamond’s lieutenants

Bob Diamond and Jerry del Missier are gone, but their legacy remains. Barclays Capital, now Barclays Investment Bank, was the creation of Mr Diamond and he was closely assisted by Mr del Missier. It has been populated by their people. It is run by their placemen. Many of them are fiercely loyal to Mr Diamond, who has enriched them as he has enriched himself.

So there may be more than a few departures in the coming weeks. Some of the more predatory headhunters will be sharpening their claws in an attempt to pick of people seen as "star" performers who might be tempted to seek pastures new to escape the turmoil engulfing the bank. That said, Barclays will be helped by the fact that the City jobs market is in a trough. Loyal Mr Diamond's people might be, but for most that loyalty will be eclipsed by their instinct for self preservation. As this scandal shows, they will look out for number one first, second, and third. And if a handful of those "stars" do quit, what of it?

The new chief executive might actually benefit from this because it will facilitate the promotion of his own people and help with the cultural clean-up that will be essential to the bank's future. Rich Ricci remains in charge of the investment bank, and Barclays won't want to change that anytime soon to ensure stability.