Barclays CEO Has a Turnaround Plan and It Involves Witty Acronyms

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I can TRANSFORM ya. Photo: STEPHEN CHERNIN/AFP/Getty

You might read this year-end letter from Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins to his charges and think, Ho hum, another jargony corporate letter. But it is actually a remarkable piece of work!

Part of Jenkins's memo's appeal has to do with the odd place in its life cycle Barclays finds itself — as an old, esteemed British bank that became a turbo-charged investment bank and spread out around the world, then was turned into a tabloid mockery by an interest-rate scandal, then threw out its CEO and cleaned house, and is now trying to make itself smaller and more British again. This plan doesn't sit well with everyone — namely, the people who liked the turbo-charged part, and the non-British people. And Jenkins has words for those constituencies. Also, acronyms!

Since it is waayyyy more fun than talking about Citigroup's earnings, let's do a little line-by-line, banker-to-English translation here.

Dear Colleagues,

We are at the start of a year which will be crucially important in building the ‘Go-To’ bank at Barclays.

According to DealBook, Jenkins's turnaround plan is expected to center on "reducing Barclays’ exposure to risky trading activity," which means focusing on the straightforward, retail-oriented parts of banking like making loans and putting up ATMs and sponsoring professional soccer leagues. Jenkins knows this sounds boring to Wall Street gunners, so he's calling it a "Go-To" strategy, which is presumably short for, "Everyone who doesn't like my plan can Go-To hell."

There is no doubt that 2012 was a difficult year for Barclays and the entire banking sector. Again financial institutions found themselves too often in the news for the wrong reasons. This damaged trust in banks, which was already at a low ebb, and overshadowed the excellent and valued work you do.

Sorry about those guys who promised each other bottles of Bollinger and talked about writing each others' names in golden letters in exchange for rigging Libor. That was really pretty dumb. On the plus side, I got Bob Diamond's job!

The behaviour which made those headlines in 2012 took place in the past. But it helped underline how banking as a whole had lost its way, and had lost touch with the values on which reputation and trust were built. Over a period of almost 20 years, banking became too aggressive, too focused on the short-term, too disconnected from the needs of our customers and clients, and wider society. We were not immune at Barclays from these mistakes.

Greg Smith was right.

Let me be quite clear. The notion that there must always be a choice between profits and a values-driven business is false. Barclays will only be a valuable business if it is a values-driven business.

See what I did there? Valuable —> Values? I AM A POET.

There is no choice between integrity and profit in this business, and to pose them as opposites fundamentally misunderstands the problems the banking sector faces. This is the difference between generating short term profits and long term shareholder value.

Seriously, I am hiring Greg Smith as COO because of how right he was.

As part of the TRANSFORM programme,

This is an acronym I came up with. I am not explaining what the letters mean, because that would ruin how amazing it is.

we have looked afresh at what we want to achieve and how we want to do it. We have reflected on our history — captured in the ‘Made by Barclays’ film we shared with you in December — which shows us what we can achieve when we are grounded in strong values and a common goal.

That video we showed at that special compliance session that you played Temple Run the entire way through? It was important.

By remaining grounded and committed in that way we will create a bank that does the right thing for colleagues, customers and clients, our shareholders, and indeed all of our stakeholders. That is what will make us the ‘Go-To’ bank.

That and not rigging Libor anymore.

We have agreed a single cross-business Purpose for Barclays, and five core Values which underpin it ...

Respect means respecting and valuing those we work with — our colleagues and other partners. It is about building trust and promoting collaboration.

Integrity demands we act fairly, ethically and honestly. This requires us to have the courage always to do the right thing, never tolerating the wrong thing, and to be accountable for our decisions.

Service means ensuring our clients and customers are always uppermost in our minds. We must strive to exceed their expectations so we automatically become their ‘Go-To’ bank.

Excellence calls on us to use all our energy, skills and resources to deliver great service for our customers and clients and outstanding sustainable results for shareholders.

I didn't get enough jollies out of TRANSFORM, so this is spelling out RISES —  seriously, can a guy get a Booker Prize around here?

Stewardship is about being determined to leave things better than we found them.

I know this is just a Boy Scout thing, but I had to think of something that started with S. Give me a break.

Over the next few weeks, we will be training over a thousand colleagues so that they are able to explain the importance of our values to every single colleague in the bank, and how they must guide us in our decisions and delivery ... In the meantime, all reviews will take account of performance against our values.

If you rig Libor again, I will personally come to your house and light your dog on fire.

I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of you, no matter in which area of the business or country you work, will enthusiastically support this move. But there might be some who don’t feel they can fully buy in to an approach which so squarely links performance to the upholding of our values. My message to those people is simple: Barclays is not the place for you. The rules have changed. You won’t feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won’t feel comfortable with you as colleagues.

Actually, this means pretty much what Jenkins says.

I can’t pretend that 2013 will be an easy year. There is a great deal of hard work ahead. But I do believe it will be a fulfilling and successful 12 months. Sometimes we will falter, but the key will be that we make continuous progress. I am also confident, when you see the results of our strategic review on February 12, that you will be excited by what the future holds for this business.

I'm trying over here, but don't expect an overnight miracle. We're still embroiled in a hundred lawsuits and this new "conducting actual banking" thing is not going to be as profitable as ye olde Libor-rigging. So sit tight, and give me a year or two before you talk about firing me.

Barclays has been around for 320 years. Its success and longevity has been based on integrity and its attention to customers and clients. When we have forgotten that, we have paid the price. If we combine the right values with the right strategy, we will build a more successful business not just this year but in the years and decades that follow.

I am just writing filler now.

Thank you for your continuing support.

Seriously, don't fire me.

Antony