LONDON, May 10 (IFR) - Barclays chairman John McFarlane rejected a call to oust CEO Jes Staley for trying to unmask a whistleblower, saying that would be an excessive punishment for “a genuine mistake”.
“He thought he had a green light, he went through the light, and actually it was red,” McFarlane told shareholders at the bank’s annual meeting on Wednesday.
“The action for going through a red light is not usually that you lose your licence.”
Staley said sorry to investors for the issue.
“I made a mistake. I would like to apologise to you for that error,” Staley said.
Barclays revealed last month it had reprimanded Staley and would cut his bonus after he twice attempted to identify the author of a letter that made claims “of a personal nature” about a senior employee at the bank. British regulators are still assessing Staley’s actions, and could punish him if it finds he flouted strict new UK rules on how to treat whistleblowers.
Questions about Barclays’ standards and culture dominated the AGM. Shareholder Michael Mason-Mahon, a frequent activist at UK banks’ AGMs, told Staley he should resign to avoid bringing embarrassment on the bank. Another said McFarlane appeared to be in charge of a “Carry On” film.
“You know me, if I thought he should go, he would have gone,” McFarlane responded.
Staley was comfortably re-elected. Only 2.8% of investors who voted opposed his re-election, although the number of votes against and abstentions was 16.3%. ISS, a shareholder proxy firm, had advised investors to abstain from voting to re-elect Staley.
Barclays also addressed the impact of Brexit, which it said would be “wholly manageable” even in the worst outcome for banks over the passporting of financial services.
“We do not currently see a need in our options to shift British jobs or significant operations elsewhere,” Staley said. “If we require a build-up of capability in another European Union jurisdiction as part of our plans then we can do so, and we will.”
Barclays is expected to expand its operations in Dublin to handle EU transactions if necessary, although that will be modest as the bank has cut its European operations to focus on its “home” markets of Britain and the US.
Barclays’ corporate and investment bank still has work to do to deliver the profitability expected, and its US rates business underperformed in the first quarter, Staley said.
“In the markets business we held share (in the first quarter). But we didn’t do quite as well as we would have liked, particularly in US rates trading – and that did dent performance on a dollar basis,” he said. (Reporting by Steve Slater)