James Moore: Salz report won't deliver value for money unless Barclays really changes

The report is actually rather vague. There’s lots of lofty talk about culture and values
  • @TheIndyBusiness

Outlook There is a certain irony in the investment banker Anthony Salz metaphorically wagging his finger at Barclays over its pay practices and the way its investment bankers had become divorced from reality in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

His employer, Rothschild, is an investment bank, and it billed Barclays £1.5m for his services. His report into Barclays' business practices was put together with the support of expensive, and highly paid, lawyers from Herbert Smith and consultants from the Boston Consulting Group. The total cost to the bank? Some £17m. How very City, you might think.

Even more so, given what's on offer. It's not that Mr Salz's report isn't without something to titillate. There's that bit about some of Barclays' investment bankers becoming "oblivious to reality" and losing all sense of "proportion and humility", for a start.

Then there was the identification of the 70-strong cabal of senior managers who appear to have been grossly over-paid, even by comparison with other banks, during the ascent of Barclays Capital, now Barclays Investment Bank.

Although we kind of knew that. There's not much here that we didn't know, really. The publication of the report – and Barclays was under no obligation to release it – is to some extent a statement of intent. An admission of the sins of the past, and a promise to do better in future, although (it should be remembered) there are still a lot of people at Barclays who were very much a part of what went wrong. Including the chief executive, (Saint) Antony Jenkins, who has admitted some personal culpability for payment protection insurance mis-selling.

All the same, as Ian Gordon, the banking analyst who is commendably blunt, points out: the report is actually rather vague.

There's lots of lofty talk about building culture and "values". Calls for Barclays to issue reports on how it's getting on and to build better relationships with "stakeholders". Perhaps more meaningfully, the suggestion that top pay needs to be cut, although the bank's cost-to-income ratio suggests that it is already moving in that direction.

A bit more meaningful are the suggestions for structural reforms, including giving human resources more clout so that they can screen the "values" of job candidates, for example. That said, perhaps the most important paragraph in the whole report is the first one, which warns that "the extent to which Barclays is able to implement some of our recommendations depends on how the industry as a whole responds to the challenges it faces".

In other words, if other banks don't change along with Barclays none of the £17m spent on this report is going to amount to a hill of beans.

Barclays might be keen to be seen as a good corporate citizen; some of its top management might even mean it when they say they've changed. But the high-minded sentiments displayed in this report are not universally shared.

Just read one of those windy letters that Jamie Dimon is fond of sending to shareholders in JP Morgan via that bank's annual report, full of self justification and attacks on regulators, and you will see that made abundantly clear.