Taylor out of favour

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Barclays chief executive Martin Taylor denies his decision this year to sell part of the group's City flagship, the high-profile investment bank BZW, was a huge reversal in strategy.

"It's more a fork in the road," he said in October when he shocked the financial world by announcing the sale of BZW's equity and corporate finance businesses. Analysts think otherwise.

Since joining the bank as chief executive in 1993, Mr Taylor has staunchly defended the strategy of having an investment bank, even though analysts favoured Lloyds TSB Group's model of UK banking: targeting retail clients with a selection of products.

The October announcement, and the paltry pounds 100m that Barclays received for the UK and European businesses, raised questions about Mr Taylor's abilities for the first time.

Previously, the intellectual and engaging Old Etonian had been a darling of the media and the City. The former journalist had risen to chief executive of Courtaulds Textiles before joining Barclays at the point in the early Nineties when it was being battered by recession.

Mr Taylor, 45, led Barclays through four years of increasing profits, boosting shares through a series of buybacks.

The BZW fiasco changed things: shares fell as much as 18 per cent, though they have since recovered. His former employer, the Financial Times, wrote that he had changed and seemed shaky when outlining the sale to staff.

Recent media reports say Mr Taylor hopes to buy rival National Westminster Bank, although analysts doubt it will happen because of monopoly concerns. What's certain is that the moves he makes in 1998 will be critical for his reputation.