THE shake-up of the investment banking arm of Barclays by group chief executive Antony Jenkins is more dramatic than that done by Royal Bank of Scotland to its markets business.
For one thing, at taxpayer-backed RBS it has been attritional retrenchment over a period of years since the financial crisis, and Chancellor George Osborne has been generally assumed to be pulling the strings in the background so that RBS focused on British high street and business banking.
With Barclays, it is more of a big bang. Jenkins has revealed 2,000 jobs are to go at its Barcap investment banking arm this year, as part of 7,000 over three years.
Not being beholden to the taxpayer, Barclays is under no political pressure to take the axe to the division. Jenkins, a retail banker by background, has decided it is simply the correct thing to do.
He deserves some sympathy. Investment banking has two inherent disadvantages. Its earnings, from equities and fixed income, to mergers and acquisitions, are notoriously lumpy.
This is great in the good times, but a significant drag on the wider banking performance in bad times. The other disadvantage is that investment banking can be a lightning rod for public criticism, given the huge bonuses associated with it.
Pejorative terms such as “casino banking” and “fat cat bankers” are inextricably linked with the sector. Barclays got a pasting at its AGM for paying out more in bonuses at Barcap for last year even though profits fell.
But this does not look a kneejerk reaction to that, more a strategic judgment call. It will probably make Barclays a safer bank.
Currently, about 50 per cent of its assets are tied up in its investment bank. This will come down to no more than 30 per cent, and it is patently clear that employing more assets in the likes of the high street bank and Barclaycard come with much less risk than involvement in bonds, derivatives, emerging markets etc.
If the flipside to that is Barclays taking a hit to profits through its reduced exposure to financial markets, then it is probably a price worth paying for greater stability of earnings.
Extra regulation has been another primary driver in this new strategy. As regulators have called for banks to have greater capital cushions in the wake of the crash, it has reduced the amount of “gambling” money available for Barclays and others to have available for their investment banks.
After the razzle-dazzle of the Bob Diamond years, the new strategy unveiled by Barclays is to be smaller, more selective and safer.
Witness also the setting up by Jenkins of a separate non-core bank of underperforming assets that Barclays wants to run down and exit over time. That will give the bank greater clarity for investors and is also to be welcomed.
BT’s gets a result with its foray into football
Latest strong profits and revenues from BT show a company in good financial nick. The move into televising live premiership football last year, a direct challenge to its arch-enemy Sky, had some wondering whether it was a move that was too risky, being away from its lines and broadband roots.
But it is not looking that way. Football has helped boost BT’s consumer business to its best performance in a decade, and is also great advertising for the wider business. Meanwhile, the progressive divi policy is making it something of a City darling.