Barclays chief apologises to shareholders for trying to identify whistleblower

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Jes Staley has apologised to Barclays shareholders for the “error” that the bank’s chief executive admitted he had made in trying to uncover the identity of a whistleblower.

Seeking to take the sting out of the bank’s annual meeting on Wednesday, Mr Staley said: “I feel it is important that I acknowledge to you – our shareholders – that I made a mistake in becoming involved in an issue which I should have left to the business to deal with.”

“I have apologised to the board, and I would today like to apologise to you as well, for that error,” said the 60-year-old American who was hired to run Barclays in December 2015.

The Barclays board has given Mr Staley a formal reprimand and promised to cut his pay by a “very significant” amount for ordering the bank’s security team to try to identify a whistleblower who had made allegations about a recently recruited colleague.

Regulators in the UK are investigating the matter in the most significant test to date of the country’s new senior manager regime, which allows the authorities to bar executives from the financial sector for serious wrongdoing if they are judged to not be “fit and
proper”.

John McFarlane, chairman, told investors at the annual meeting: “You know me, if I believed a chief executive should go, he would go. But I do not believe that is what should happen.”

He defended Mr Staley, pointing out that the board believed it was dealing with an “external” whistleblower rather than a Barclays employee.

He added that when Mr Staley first approached the head of compliance about the whistleblower he was told he was not allowed to pursue their identity, but when he did so a second time he was told the case was closed, which he mistakenly interpreted as a signal that could try to identify who sent the letters.

“He thought he had a green light and he went through the green light and actually it was red,” Mr McFarlane, who has been dubbed “Mac the Knife” for his habit of firing CEOs both at Barclays and in his previous job at Aviva.

“At the time he was a relatively new chief executive – it’s no excuse – but he had to learn his lesson and he has done that,” said the chairman. “The action for going through a red light usually is you do not lose your licence.”

Michael Mason-Mahon, a shareholder, asked: “Has the behaviour of the CEO brought nothing but shame on the name of Barclays? For the sake of Barclays Plc and its shareholders and its customers, will you behave with honour and resign today?”

Another shareholder said: “It beggars belief that Mr Staley was not aware of the whistleblower procedures or was not briefed on them when he joined the bank.”

ISS, a proxy adviser to many large shareholders, has advised investors not to vote in favour of Mr Staley’s re-election to the board, which is expected to lead to a sizeable level of abstentions.

The Barclays CEO seems certain to survive today’s annual meeting and most shareholders and board members think he will also come through the lengthy regulators’ investigations.

“We are not in full control of this but we think the regulatory authorities are dealing with the same facts,” said Mr McFarlane, adding: “When you are the top of these organisations whether you are chairman or CEO the standards expected of you are very high and we
understand that.”

Picture: PA Wire

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