Every journey of a thousand miles must start with a single step. I don't know whether Anthony Jenkins, the chief executive of Barclays, had this piece of ancient Chinese philosophy in mind, but on the long road towards restoring public trust and faith that his bank, and indeed the entire banking sector, must travel, it is clear that he has taken the first baby steps.
It was announced on Monday night that Mr Jenkins has, for the second year in succession, declined to accept the annual bonus that he was due as part of his contract. He was entitled to a payout of £2.7m, a sum that equated to 250 per cent of his £1.1m salary, but he said that “it would not be right, in the circumstances” to take the money.
What circumstances, you may ask? Well, it's not exactly been a vintage year for Barclays. Mired in the continuing struggle to right the wrongs of the past, the bank has had to shell out what Mr Jenkins calls “significant” amounts of money in 2013 (and when Barclays calls outlays “significant”, we know they're talking about eye-watering sums). On top of this, the bank was forced into an emergency rights issue last year to raise £6bn in order to restore its capital position, and has had to set aside almost £5.5bn in compensation for its mis-selling misdemeanours of the recent past.
Against this background, the Barclays board still offered Mr Jenkins the opportunity to trouser more than two-and-a-half mill as a thank-you for his efforts. What were they thinking? I know it was a contractual obligation, but, sooner or later, someone in a bank's boardroom has to pull the communication cord on the gravy train. Why should it be left to an individual to show some sensitivity to the prevailing moral climate? It could, of course, be a stage-managed piece of public relations, but either way it puts pressure on the bosses of the other high street banks to respond to the simmering anger of their customers about both the service they are providing and the rewards they are snaffling by a similarly public-spirited act.
Weirdly, I felt a minor twinge of pride when I heard about Mr Jenkins' sacrifice (don't worry, by the way: he's still in line to pocket £4m in shares as part of a long-term incentive plan). I may be a creature from a bygone age, but in my day, people had a loyalty to their bank, which often was returned.
I have been a faithful customer of Barclays ever since I received my first pay packet. I moved from job to job, from one part of Britain to another, but my bank account stayed in a small branch in South Wales. I had a succession of Mr Thomases and Mr Williamses looking after my account, and now it's a Mr Jenkins. Brand loyalty is often inexplicable, and allegiance to a bank is, frankly, crazy in the current climate. It is, indeed, a thousand mile journey for Britain's banks to win back public respect, but I take a small pleasure in the fact that it's my bank manager who took that first step.Reuse content