Simon English: Barclays on banker bonuses - damned if it does, damned if it doesn't

Simon English
·2-min read
A general view of the Canary Wharf skyline: PA
A general view of the Canary Wharf skyline: PA

Barclays has a quandary. A dividend dilemma, perhaps.

In uniquely difficult circumstances its 55,000 staff held firm, as did the balance sheet.

Companies large and small were aided, deals were done, from laptops and from kitchen tables.

Barclays was the lead manager, CEO Jes Staley tells me, on $1 trillion of debt deals in the year so far.

Bad loans are lower than anyone thought. In short, they smashed it.

In normal times this would mean rewards for shareholders and for bankers. Bonuses would jump.

In these times, the bank is banned from paying dividends, a stance that it hopes regulators will relax in time for Christmas.

The quandary is, if the regulator remains understandably cautious about the future and holds its ban on dividends, can the bank still pay the bonuses the high fliers think they are due?

If they do, would shareholders complain? If they don’t, would the talent walk?

This might be an issue at all big UK banks, but it is particularly acute at Barclays.

NatWest and Lloyds don’t have many investment bankers to reward in the first place, so the issue doesn’t arise.

Barclays’s Wall Street rivals such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley aren’t exposed to the UK economy in the same way. It is only Barclays which faces the wrath of politicians and the public for dishing out banker bonuses, and the wrath of the bankers if they don’t.

This is a result of Staley’s decision, now surely vindicated, to build its investment banking arm, to believe that a UK bank could compete with the US giants in the City and on Wall Street.

So far, Staley’s reward for this has been belated grudging acceptance that he might know what he is doing, and a looming headache on banker pay. It’s a tough call.