View from City Road: Taylor convinces that Barclays is on the mend

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The Independent Online
In his tour of where Barclays should go, Martin Taylor, the new chief executive, treated analysts to some rare intellectual excitement. After falling initially the shares struggled up to close 8p higher at 510p. That was the right reaction since Mr Taylor was talking a lot of sense.

He wants a separately identifiable group executive headquarters to remove confusion between the senior management and the clearing bank, and he worries that Barclays is not organised enough along customer lines. The bank and BZW are also too polarised.

On finances, there will be no rights issue while Mr Taylor is chief executive. But with profits recovering fast, Barclays has started a strategic study of its capital needs. Should the bank hoard capital either to spend on what he called 'reckless adventures' or as a cushion for future problems?

He implied that, whatever happened, it should not be handed back in huge dollops to shareholders. The old game of asking shareholders for rights issues and giving it back in high dividends was over. He did not believe Barclays' future dividends should be much more than twice covered by earnings.

This time cover was 1.3, but retained profits would have to double to get to a two times covered dividend at the old level, before it was slashed. Restoration of the former dividend will be a tall order this year, though a smaller increase is likely.

Mr Taylor also confirmed, as the Independent reported in January, that the bank is planning to make bad debt provisions based on an analysis of the general risk of default for the type of borrower, rather than the customer's individual credit rating.

This is not to smooth out profits over a cycle, he said. The key objective is to encourage bank managers to price their loans better - an actuary's view of bank risk, already applied to Barclaycard. The trick is to extend it to high-volume commercial lending.

Most important, Mr Taylor wants to change the bank to a 'can do' culture: less formal, more open to outsiders, and judging people by their contribution not their status. (That applies in buckets already at bonus-laden BZW.) Promises, promises, but convincingly put. Barclays is on the mend.