Barclays’ Ricci looks to fruits of review
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Rich Ricci doesn’t like mangoes. However, a few weeks ago, when a client sent him a box of the fruits as a gift – and consolation for the fact that in the wake of the Libor scandal, his two colleagues who had built up Barclays’ investment bank, Bob Diamond and Jerry del Missier, had lost their jobs – the now sole head of the business decided the fruit was the perfect code name.
Project Mango, Mr Ricci told colleagues, would be the most thorough analysis of Barclays’ investment banking operations ever conducted.
Helped by Deloitte, the US banker is eight weeks into a process of scrutinising all 54 business lines within the corporate and investment bank in what will lead to eventual cutbacks in some areas.
It comes as investment banks round the world have come under political and regulatory scrutiny and are being forced to change their business models away from the riskiest areas.
Mr Ricci’s hierarchy of priorities is testament to these changed times. When Mr Diamond reviewed Barclays’ investment banking business units a few years ago, he looked at them purely from a profit perspective. This time, reputation comes first.
With investment banking a scorn of politicians and regulators alike after the Libor and other scandals, reputation has become the new buzzword in investment banking in general and for Barclays in particular. “Shareholder value is no longer about revenues or profits only, but also about reputation,” one senior executive said.
In a speech on Monday, Mr Ricci said: “We have always scrutinised our businesses based on their ability to generate returns. Now, however, I feel it is appropriate to modify that assessment by explicitly looking at reputational risk.”
The business review is set to identify each business area’s potential impact on the bank’s image. If the reputational danger is too high and cannot be solved, Barclays will get out of that business altogether or shrink it drastically.
One such area is the bank’s structured capital markets unit, a tax planning business that was one of Barclays’ most profitable businesses before the financial crisis but which became embroiled in legal disputes over allegations it set up abusive tax shelters.
Only after the reputational hurdle is met will Barclays examine whether the unit is able to achieve the bank’s return targets.
Antony Jenkins, Barclays’ newly sworn-in chief executive, on Monday said regulators had not explicitly asked for such an approach, but they would welcome it as it would help to put the bank on a more stable footing.
While talking to analysts, Mr Jenkins mentioned a sustainable return on equity target first as one of two axes for the review, while reputation came second. Mr Ricci referred to the measures the other way round.
What also became clearer on Monday was that Barclays’ legal woes and management changes will not be a prelude to a break-up of the group or a drastic downsizing of the investment bank.
“I have been and continue to be a fervent supporter of Barclays’ universal banking model,” said Mr Jenkins, who used to run the retail bank, at the group’s banking industry investor conference in New York.
Barclays’ investment bank has grown rapidly in the past decade to enter the global top ranks of fixed income trading, and it has generated two-thirds to three-quarters of group profits.
While there are no plans to shrink the unit drastically, Mr Jenkins and Mr Ricci will follow their peers in pulling back from underperforming areas where they lack scale and where regulatory changes and a drop in demand have made it harder for investment banks to earn money.
Two such areas are its Asian equities and mergers and acquisitions advisory services, where Barclays has expanded with limited success as a late-comer.
Insiders say the bank might cut its 400 staff in Asian equities by a quarter; 150 of its 250 advisory bankers may have to leave.
While many expected Mr Ricci to leave given his close association with Mr Diamond, he is keen to spearhead changes at Barclays. His “Project Mango” is two months ahead of the group review.
Nevertheless, questions remain over whether he can convince colleagues and the outside world that he is his own man, despite his close relationships with Mr Diamond and Mr del Missier.
On the windowsill of Mr Ricci’s office, the three bankers smile out from a couple of caricatures – one shows the trio as champion weightlifters; the other has them at the front of a bus with the destination: Global Domination.
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