Could the banks, or at least one bank, finally be starting to "get it"? The "it" being the anger of ordinary people and their frustration at not being able to exact punishment. The realisation would not be before time.
Yes, jobs have been lost across the sector; yes, some bonuses have been curbed – though basic pay has often been increased to compensate. But prices have been rising; banks are only just starting to lend again; savers are still penalised by sub-inflation interest rates – and it is bank customers and taxpayers who, one way or another, are footing the bill for the excesses and dishonesty of the pre-crisis years. Very few individuals have been brought to book.
Enter Antony Jenkins. Since he took over as Barclays chief executive last August, he has been singing a strikingly different, and humbler, tune. Tomorrow he is expected to announce that the bank's Structured Capital Markets business, known for helping its clients to avoid tax, will be shut down. This is one of several structural changes he is to make in response to the findings of a strategic review.
Now it is possible that the unit concerned was not performing well and is actually to be closed for financial, rather than ethical, reasons. What actually happens will warrant close examination. But this measure should not be seen in isolation. So far, Mr Jenkins has waived his own bonus, likely to have been around £1m, on the grounds that it would be wrong to take it after such a "difficult" year for Barclays and problems that were largely of its own making. Last month, he instructed all staff to sign up to a new code of ethics or leave. He has also presided over high-level departures, including that of the finance director only last week.
This is more like it. Even if some of Mr Jenkins's actions have another rationale – such as consolidating his authority or streamlining the business – he seems to have understood the message an aggrieved public wants to hear. We hope others will follow his lead, and that the message is translated into deeds.Reuse content