Barclays: where smaller pies mean bigger slices for staff

The Mince Pie Project

Tell us it's not true, saintly Antony.

Have you really increased bonuses at Barclays' investment bank while revenues and profits are falling and shareholders are still digesting autumn's thumping £6bn rights issue? Are you already taking a detour from the "multi-year path to reposition Barclays remuneration", as last year's annual report piously put it?

Barclays shareholders will learn on Tuesday with the full-year results that the reports are accurate. Chief executive Antony Jenkins and the board have indeed sanctioned an increase in bonuses at the investment bank in a year in which the unit's revenues fell.

In other words, the pie has shrunk in size but the well-paid employees will receive a larger slice at the expense of investors.

That is not what Barclays promised. "I hope that 2012 will be seen as a turning point in the way Barclays approaches remuneration," Sir John Sunderland, chairman of the pay committee, wrote in last year's annual report.

"For 2012 and in future we are taking a different approach to the balance between directors' and employees' remuneration, and returns for shareholders."

Jenkins may offer various explanations. The blasted EU bonus cap has sown confusion and Wall Street rivals are exploiting the situation by waving large carrots at Barclays' most prized staff. Thus the bank has had to respond in kind to remain competitive.

This argument, as far as it goes, is coherent. It is true that the shareholders of JP Morgan et al are a feeble bunch and have been happy to let the bonus party roll on even as the bills for the last knees-up continue to pile up. Jamie Dimon's $20m (£15m) pay packet after another year of litigation hell at JP Morgan is merely the most striking example.

But Jenkins should talk straight to his shareholders. He is clearly sincere about his clean-up programme; and he himself is prepared to share the pain for "legacy litigation and conduct issues" by declining a bonus for 2013. But is he also saying that Barclays, on pay, is still a prisoner of the demands of the senior staff in its investment bank? If so, where is the long-term gain for shareholders?

The unit occasionally, as in 2012, earns returns in excess of Barclays' cost of capital, the true measure of profitability. But if, in the "down" years, new-look Barclays still feels the need to play the greed game to retain a seat at the table, what is the point of staying in investment banking?

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nils Pratley, for The Guardian on Friday 7th February 2014 19.32 Europe/London

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image: © Liam McPherson

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