Barclays scandal: will top duo go or ride out storm?

Bob Diamond and Marcus Agius, the two men who recreated the bank in its modern image, are irredeemably linked to its torrid past. It is inevitable that one or both must resign

The Bob Diamond-Marcus Agius double act at the top of Barclays Bank is surely drawing to a close. It's an open question whether Barclays' chief executive or its chairman will go first. In the end, both may have to depart if a two-stage shuffle is deemed the least embarrassing way to defuse the crisis. But a resignation will have to come – and quickly. When the prime minister says that responsibility and accountability should go "all the way to the top of the organisation", the writing is on the wall.

Why don't Diamond and Agius see that? They may feel that Barclays' sins in the Libor scandal are no greater than those of other banks – a view that may be vindicated when the Financial Services Authority and the US regulators have completed their investigations.

Barclays' top duo may tell themselves that it's terribly unfair that they should be singled out for personal chastisement before the outside world appreciates the scale and depth of global banks' attempts to rig the money markets.

Tough. Each bank must be held accountable for its own culture and it's as plain as day from the FSA and US reports that something went horribly wrong in parts of Barclays Capital, the investment banking division (then run by Diamond), in the years 2005-09.

Clearly, Agius and Diamond cannot be expected to know everything that happens within the bank. But it is reasonable to expect that they lay down the law on the types of behaviour that are acceptable and appoint trusted enforcers to police the joint.

The portrait that emerges of Barclays' derivatives department is of a place where basic rules were routinely and knowingly broken. Libor, as everybody within BarCap should have known, is sacrosanct – you just don't submit inaccurate information, even if you suspect everybody else is doing so.

Agius became chairman in 2006 and part of his appeal was meant to be his standing as an old-school financier who would ensure that traditional City virtues survived in the brasher world of 21st-century investment banking. Instead, too often, Agius has found himself cast as apologist-in-chief for modern banking's bonus culture. If he were ever the man to constrain the wilder ways of BarCap's derivatives dudes, he's not now. His usefulness to Barclays as a charming and articulate promoter of the principles of "good citizenship" has evaporated.

From shareholders' point of view, Diamond – chief executive since John Varley's retirement in 2010 – would be the more severe loss. BarCap is the business he built and it has been the dominant contributor to the group's profits in recent years. It is not too fanciful to imagine the BarCap project unravelling without Diamond's confident presence at Canary Wharf.

Diamond, when his fire is up, is fond of damning dreary Brits for their failure to celebrate BarCap's success. He had a point: Warburg, Kleinwort Benson and many other famous UK merchant banks lost their independence after the Big Bang in 1986. Some were taken over by foreign megabanks, and Barings imploded. Diamond's unique triumph was to build BarCap into a top player out of the ashes of Barclays' own fumbling investment banking venture, BZW.

But the reason why many Brits have been so reluctant to applaud Diamond's creation should now be clear. As George Osborne put it: "The FSA report is a shocking indictment of the culture at banks like Barclays in the runup to the financial crisis."

Barclays would probably agree. Its statement on Wednesday expressed "utmost regret" for actions that "fell well short of the standards to which Barclays aspires in the conduct of its business". But it would also argue that Diamond is the right man to ensure the bank has truly reformed.

It's that notion that now lacks credibility. There's no reason to doubt the sincerity of Diamond's statements about the importance of trust and honesty in banking, but he carries the baggage of Barclays' past. When the past keeps exploding on to the front pages of newspapers, the boss is in danger of becoming bad for business. With no fans in Westminster, and dissent in the shareholder ranks, Diamond's effectiveness as a leader and advocate of Barclays' interests is weakened.

But maybe there is another reason for the lack of a resignation. The Libor scandal seems very likely to trigger civil claims for damages against banks. Have Barclays' lawyers advised the directors that a resignation might make the legal position worse? That's one theory in circulation.

Barclays directors

Chairman Marcus Agius, 65 – former investment banker. Joined board 2006

Chief executive Bob Diamond, 60 – investment banker. Joined board 2005

Finance director Chris Lucas, 51


Sir Mike Rake, 64 – also chairman of BT and easyJet. Former boss of accountants KPMG

Alison Carnwath, 59 – former investment banker. Now chairman of Land Securities, the property company that owns Lakeside, Thurrock, Cabot Circus in Bristol and the advertising lights in Piccadilly Circus

David Booth, 57 – former investment banker. Now venture capital investor

Sir John Sunderland, 66 – former chairman and chief executive of Cadbury Schweppes

Fulvio Conti, 64 – chief executive of Italian power company Enel

Simon Fraser, 52 – former fund manager at Fidelity.

Reuben Jeffery III, 58 – former Goldman Sachs banker who switched to Washington

Dambisa Moyo, 43 – economist and former Goldman Sachs banker. Now a director of SABMiller brewers and Barrick Gold.

Sir Andrew Likierman, 68 – chairman of the National Audit Office and dean of the London Business School


Nils Pratley

The GuardianTramp

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