Last updated: September 25, 2013 6:17 pm

Barclays to retreat from 100 wealth markets

Barclays is to pull out of more than 100 markets and cut staff in its wealth management business as it aims to boost the unit’s feeble profitability.

The UK bank will reduce the number of countries in which it provides wealth and investment management services from about 200 to 70 by the end of 2016.

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That will leave it still focused on global markets that encompass about 80 per cent of the world’s wealth.

The move reflects banks’ rapidly rising expenditures to make sure they do not break anti-money laundering rules, making it uneconomic for all but the leading global wealth managers to remain active in smaller markets.

Barclays’ decision follows Credit Suisse’s announcement earlier this week that it will exit or withdraw from about 50 markets worldwide by 2014 to bolster its profitability. HSBC also wound down its Irish private banking arm in October last year.

The changes are being spearheaded by Peter Horrell, who has been interim chief executive at Barclays Wealth and Investment Management since May and who was named the unit’s permanent head on Monday.

Barclays’ wealth management business has faced turbulent times this year after Mr Horrell’s predecessor, Tom Kalaris, left the bank in April after the news in January that a senior employee at its US wealth arm had destroyed an independent report highlighting serious cultural issues within the division.

The bank said the forthcoming changes to the wealth arm were unrelated to the report and the cultural changes it recommended.

The lender’s wealth management division has grown rapidly in the past few years, but with £201bn assets under management it only ranked 15th globally in 2012, according to Scorpio Partnership, a consultancy.

The unit is also lagging behind larger competitors with an 87 per cent cost to income ratio and a return on equity of 4.5 per cent in the first half of this year, well short of its target of a return on equity in the high teens for 2015.

As part of the cost cutting plan, Barclays aims to wind down five of its 17 “booking centres”, which enable clients to trade and book assets in particular jurisdictions for tax and legal purposes. The five targeted centres run less than £5bn of assets.

“We are . . . reducing complexity in our business, enabling us to focus on bringing the right services and products to clients in locations where we have scale,” Mr Horrell said.

Staff cuts in the wealth management unit – which employs 8,000 – are expected in the regions affected and throughout the division. It comes after Antony Jenkins, chief executive of Barclays, last March announced plans to reduce the bank’s overall headcount by 3,000 staff by 2016.

Although Barclays plans to scale back wealth services in some regions, it has also committed £400m of cash to spend on the division over the next four years as part of a project dubbed “Strategy Refresh”.

This includes further efforts to work more closely with the bank’s retail, corporate and investment banking arms and a new “centre of excellence” that will be run by Rory Tobin, the former head of BlackRock’s international exchange traded fund business, who joined Barclays Wealth last year.

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