Barclays' Jes Staley is latest victim of the eagle’s curse, EY has mandarin test and they think it's all (Ex)ova

Mark Kleinman
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Barclays’ board’s response to the whistleblowing storm was both swift and decisive (Source: Getty)

Call it the eagle’s curse: even RBS cannot outrank Barclays for self-inflicted wounds since the 2008 banking crisis – and that’s saying something.

This week’s admission that Jes Staley, Barclays’ chief executive, twice flouted internal whistleblowing procedures in order to unmask the source of letters about a friend and colleague is right up there in the bank’s Argos-length catalogue of misdeeds.

Staley’s sin does possess the rare merit of appearing to be innocuous, or even noble, in intent.

Read more: FCA investigates Barclays boss Jes Staley: How four City analysts reacted

This was, after all, no self-enriching attempt to manipulate rates or mis-sell products to inflate an annual bonus.

Another mitigating factor: Barclays’ board’s response was both swift and decisive.

I understand that the chairman, John McFarlane, briefed investors that sacking Staley was discussed by directors at Sunday’s board meeting, before they decided “unanimously” to support his re-election at the forthcoming annual general meeting.

Read more: Here's everything you need to know about the investigation into Jes Staley

Their decision to do so – for now – is understandable. Barclays has already undertaken two difficult chief executive search processes within the last five years.

It was a reasonable calculation that a severe reprimand will be sufficient to ensure the avoidance of a repetition of Staley’s misconduct.

Yet even if this all shows internal governance working effectively, regulators would be unwise to downgrade the incident’s seriousness – not least because a failure to respond robustly would send a chilling signal about the protections they want to afford future whistleblowers.

Read more: Barclays should be praised, not punished, for its whistleblowing system

There is a wider point about financial stability, though, that regulators should bear in mind as they conduct their twin probes into Staley and the bank.

During the next two years, Barclays – and the other major British lenders – will take part in the most far-reaching operational and technological overhauls in British banking history.

The simultaneous nature of the adoption of ring-fencing and the bureaucratic burdens associated with Brexit make the period until 2019 fraught with risk.

A change of leadership would only exacerbate that.

Read more: Ex-Barclays exec to take charge of Panmure as part of Bob Diamond takeover

Expediency therefore probably means that Staley – who has otherwise performed strongly since taking over from Antony Jenkins – will keep his job with regulators’ reluctant blessing.

That doesn’t necessarily make it the right outcome. This was an act of self-vandalism that may yet damage the cause of whistleblowers everywhere.

EY has mandarin taste

Mandarins do not come much more venerated than Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain’s former ambassador to the United States, France and Turkey. Little surprise, then, that his retirement from the diplomatic service has prompted interest from the private sector.

Sir Peter’s latest appointment – to be announced today – will see him joining EY, I’m told.

Read more: Saga waves goodbye to EY after 10 years

Replacing the former CBI boss Sir Richard Lambert, Sir Peter will sit on the big four auditor’s independent non-executive oversight committee.

It’s a smart appointment for EY, given current geopolitical uncertainties.

And EY has, unlike its main rivals, remained relatively free from the cross-hairs of regulators.

A big dose of diplomatic nous should help that continue.

They think it Is all (Ex)ova

Could one of the year’s few contested bid situations to date be heading for a rapid conclusion?

The Takeover Panel has imposed a deadline for firm offers for Exova, the materials testing company, of 24 April, but City insiders say the situation may have effectively been wrapped up already.

Read more: Testing giant that counts London Underground among clients up for sale

I understand that Element Materials Technology, owned by Bridgepoint, tabled a proposal in the last few days, but Jacobs Holding and PAI Partners, the two rival bidders, could be close to folding.

They have 11 days to prove me wrong.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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