Barclays Bank makes record pounds 2.36bn profit

Barclays Bank yesterday announced record profits of pounds 2.36bn for 1996, infuriating unions who are fighting pay claims for high street clerical banking staff dogged by low morale. Unifi, the union for Barclays staff, said the workforce was seeking a break from the 21,000 redundancies that have been made since 1991.

"It's not the size of the profits [that worries us] but what is done with them. In particular, staff have been paid sub-inflation rises for the past three or four years," said Patrick Eraut, national officer of Unifi.

The union was also frustrated by the bank's refusal to make commitments to no compulsory redundancies. "We're six weeks into the new year and we're already aware of 800 jobs due to go," said Mr Eraut.

The bank has surplus funds of around pounds 500m that Martin Taylor, chief executive of Barclays, said yesterday he intended to return to shareholders.

Barclays has bought back more than pounds 1bn of shares in the past 18 months and yesterday further rewarded shareholders with a 21 per cent rise in the final dividend to 20p.

However, the bank's shares fell 70.5p yesterday to close at pounds 11.29, the biggest fall in the FTSE 100 index, after Barclays announced that BZW, its investment banking arm, had suffered a sharp fall in profits during the second half of the year. A strong performance in other areas of its business, notably UK Banking Services, gave Barclays the scope to increase its dividend and make the promise to return more money to shareholders.

All three areas of UK Banking Services - personal banking, business banking and cross-border services - recorded profit increases. Profits in the personal banking unit jumped to pounds 773m from pounds 659m, while business banking profits rose to pounds 801m from pounds 754m.

Mr Taylor said Barclays Life had improved to produce a 35 per cent increase in sales of life, pension and investment products. Barclaycard, savings products and consumer lending also made solid contributions and balances on current accounts were higher.

The bank's personal banking business faced an upheaval in the early 1990s when the bank started to close many branches. Barclays now has 2,000 branches and it expects to close another 20 or so this year.

The bank, like all the others on the high street, is offering more telephone banking services and it is piloting a PC-based home banking service. It also faces competition from new entrants to banking, such as supermarkets, but Barclays made clear yesterday it had no intention of pairing up with supermarkets to offer banking services. Instead, it aims to open its own branches at stores.

Barclays attracted more than 200,000 customers for its Additions banking services, a bank account which requires customers to pay a fee of pounds 5 every month, regardless of whether or not they are overdrawn. Similar schemes are being introduced by other clearing banks and Stuart Cliffe, chief executive of the National Association of Bank Customers, said this was a way of introducing bank charges by the back door.

Mr Cliffe argued that banks' record profits should scotch any ideas of charging for personal banking.

The British Bankers' Association said 80 per cent of banking clients did not incur any charges. It said research by banks showed that a significant minority of banking customers were prepared to pay for enhanced banking services.

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