Barclays boss’s spy act is a funny old business

Perhaps bungling whistleblower Jes Staley deserves credit for playing spooky homage to Rowan Atkinson’s 1990s comic TV ads

Say what you like about Barclays’ American boss Jes Staley (please, knock yourself out) but don’t assume he’s a stereotypical Wall Streeter with an underdeveloped sense of irony.

Staley has, of course, landed himself in the soup over his attempts to unmask an internal whistleblower, who was supposedly saying mean things about a close pal and colleague. That resulted in an official warning for Staley earlier this month – but a more charitable interpretation might be that the bungling spymaster act was merely a satirical homage to the old Barclaycard ads featuring Rowan Atkinson’s incompetent MI7 spook, Latham.

You remember the sort of thing: an earnest Latham tries to show off his espionage skills, only to accidentally shoot himself in the scrotum with a tranquilliser pen. Or the one where our hero tries to buy a carpet by haggling with a trader in local dialect: “You sound fluent, sir.” “We are both fluent, Bough; sadly in different languages”.

So, by that reading, Staley’s efforts were not the shameful trampling over whistleblower protocols they originally appeared to be. Instead, they were a cruelly misunderstood and affectionate comic tribute to a vintage period of the bank’s advertising. Please remember that when he faces the City for the first time since being publicly disgraced, at Barclays’s quarterly results this week.

HSBC duo face final curtain

Apart from those numbers from Barclays, we have a slew of other banking events this week – among them an annual general meeting at HSBC, where the bank’s board is about to undergo significant change, partly because it’s time, and partly due to a row with those pesky proxy groups.

Firstly, this will be chairman Douglas Flint’s final AGM – although that is hardly a shock as he announced his departure a year ago.

Secondly, it is farewell to non-executive director Paul Walsh, who has been pressured by proxy voting groups including ISS and Glass Lewis into stepping down because of “over-boarding” allegations.

Before you ask, that’s not a euphemism for something that happens to whistleblowers at black sites in Panama. Instead it’s all about Walsh enjoying too many other directorships to concentrate on HSBC.

The world’s local bank had argued that this point did not apply to Walsh, as he did not hold a position of enough influence at HSBC – which inevitably lead to a paraphrasing of a classic Brian Clough question: if you’re not influential, what are you doing on the effin’ board? Answer: he won’t be.

Tough medicine for AstraZeneca boss

They say that there is nothing new under the sun – a point made by both Ecclesiastes and the City, and routinely reinforced by this column.

So it will prove again this week when the drugs group AstraZeneca holds its annual general meeting, where tradition (and possibly the company’s constitution) dictates that there will be a tasty little scrap over executive pay.

You’ll recall how in the so-called shareholder spring of 2012, then Astra boss David Brennan was ousted after a row over his £9m package, which he’d combined with a touch of underperformance – but the pay narrative has remained pretty constant since, no matter who’s been the boss.

This year should prove to be another re-run, with Pirc opposing both the group’s remuneration report and policy – describing the latter as a method to “promote excessive payouts”.

Pirc continues: “The ratio of CEO to average employee pay has been estimated and is found unacceptable at 152:1. The balance of CEO realised pay with financial performance is not considered acceptable as the change in CEO total pay over five years is not commensurate with the change in TSR [total shareholder return] over the same period.”

A developing story, then (which we might hear again and again).


Simon Goodley

The GuardianTramp

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