Barclays AGM: Boss Jes Staley apologises to shareholders for whistleblowing scandal and plays down Brexit concerns

 
William Turvill
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Barclays chief executive Jes Staley is under investigation for attempts to identify a whistleblower (Source: Getty)

Under-fire Barclays boss Jes Staley today issued a personal apology over his attempts to identify a whistleblower as he faced shareholders at the bank’s annual general meeting (AGM).

In a bruising encounter, Staley survived a shareholder vote on his reappointment, but failed to secure full backing, with a large number of abstentions.

The chief executive opened his speech by addressing criticism over his attempts to find the author of a letter that was treated as a whistleblowing incident by the bank. Staley is under investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority for his controversial intervention.

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

​“I made a mistake in becoming involved in an issue which I should have left with the business to deal with,” he said. “I have apologised to the board, and I would today like to apologise to you as well for that error.”

Barclays heavyweight chairman John McFarlane was also forced to defend Staley as shareholders stood up at the AGM to criticise the CEO's behaviour.

“He made a mistake – it was a genuine mistake. We’ve accepted that. He apologised, and we dealt with it,” McFarlane said. “He thought he had a green light, he went through the light, and actually it was red. He shouldn’t have handled it himself, he should have handled it through the appropriate authorities. He understands that.”

A minority of shareholders later made it clear how they felt in the AGM voting. While 97.2 per cent of votes cast were in favour of Staley’s reappointment as chief executive, abstentions on the day totalled 13.8 per cent. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) had recommended shareholders should abstain from voting on the reappointment of Staley.

Oliver Parry, head of corporate governance at the Institute of Directors, told Sky News: “Clearly, he’s made some errors, certainly around the whistleblowing – he’s acknowledged that. But he is an experienced financier, he understands the banking world better than anybody else, and it was a matter for shareholders. And ultimately he is going to be judged on the financial performance.”

Barclays' share price is up 30 per cent in the past year.

Sir Ian Cheshire, who will chair the bank’s ringfenced UK operations, Barclays UK, also came under pressure, with a 12 per cent vote against his appointment.

Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group hold their AGMs in Edinburgh on Thursday. The Shareholder Society yesterday promised to “brutally grill” RBS over governance, urging the lender to set up a shareholder committee. Elsewhere, shareholder advisory groups ISS and Pirc have both advised investors to reject RBS remuneration policy.

Read more: The FCA is investigating Barclays boss Jes Staley over a whistleblower case

Staley also spoke about the impact of Brexit on the bank, saying: “We do not currently see a need in our options to shift British jobs or significant operations elsewhere. 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.”

He also played down the difficulty of dealing with Brexit and a loss of passporting.

“The first thing to say is that we see this as a wholly manageable challenge,” he said. “Our investment banking activities in Europe are certainly important to Barclays and to our strategy, and we’re committed to remaining a strong participant in that marketplace.

“To be clear, we believe that the value of the single market for financial services in Europe with full participation from banks based in the UK remains the best option for the UK economy and the best option for the European Union economy. Nevertheless, we recognise that there are a range of possible outcomes in the negotiations over the next 23 months.”

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