Yet another bank branch earmarked for the chop

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The axe is set to fall on yet another Wigan bank branch.

The latest victim of the remorseless march of technology will be the Barclays outlet within the Asda hypermarket at Newtown.

It is one of another 54 branches it is planning to close down in the coming weeks and Newtown will cash its final cheque on October 27. The move will bring its total number of Barclays closures in 2017 to 67 across the UK.

In a statement, the bank said along with a number of high street lenders, the closures are linked to the growing demand for digital services – such as the increasing shift towards immediate online and app banking facilities. A spokesman confirmed the closures will not result in any job losses, adding:

“The number of physical Barclays branches will reduce overall but our branch network and the colleagues who work in them remain a vital part of our offering. We will continue to evolve the shape and size of our branch network, as well as improving and investing in the experience in-branch.

We also provide our customers with a range of digital channels.” There was a time when there was a bank to be found in every modest-sized Wigan community upwards – sometimes several per town and village. But it was as early as the mid-1990s that branch closures began, one of the first being the NatWest in Shevington.

Few townships have been spared since as transactions are increasingly carried out digitally. According to consumer platform Which?, over 1,000 high street bank branches were axed between January 2015 and January 2017 alone, with HSBC the worst offender.


Barclays sets aside extra £700m for PPI

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Barclays has set aside an extra £700m to meet compensation claims for mis-selling payment protection insurance.

The news came as the bank said costs related to the sale of its Africa business had pushed it into a £1.2bn loss in the first half of the year.

The sale of the Africa business was part of Barclays’ plan to focus on the UK and US.

Stripping out the losses from the Africa sale, Barclays posted a 13% rise in group pre-tax profits to £2.34bn.

Barclays chief executive Jes Staley said: “Our business is now radically simplified, the restructuring is complete, our capital ratio is within our end-state target range, and, while we are also working to put conduct issues behind us, we can now focus on what matters most to our shareholders: improving group returns.”

Advertising campaign

Barclays said it had now set aside a total of £2.1bn to deal with PPI complaints, but this was open to review.

Claims are expected to rise after the Financial Conduct Authority launches a campaign in August to encourage consumers to decide whether to act before the final deadline to bring a PPI complaint in August 2019.

Earlier this year, Barclays sold a near 34% stake in Barclays Africa Group, leaving it with just 15% of the business.

The company said the sale of the stake had led to a loss of £1.4bn, and it had also taken a £1.1bn charge on the sale.


Eight startups Rise up with Barclays

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Barclays Bank is entering formal engagements with eight of the 11 startups to pass through its latest fifteen-week accelerator programme and spinning out an internal team as a separate company.

The accelerator graduates pitched their ideas to 250 people on a demo day held at Barclays’ new Rise London base in Shoreditch.

Barclays used the event to unveil the new facility, which houses internal banking and technology teams alongside more than 40 fintech startups.

Michael Harte, Barclays group head of innovation, says: “Financial Services is experiencing a period of major technological disruption. Rise, and specifically our Accelerator, has created a platform for experimentation, with new generation businesses and entrepreneurs, to build new products, services and platforms.”

Of the eleven startups emerging from the Accelerator, Barclays is spinning out an internal team as a separate company. Dubbed Nivo, the startup offers secure mobile messaging for smarter customer service, and will pilot with Barclays Premier.

Other startups to secure deals with Barclays, include: Simudyne, which is working with the bank’s risk team on scenario planning; predictive anti-fraud and outage startup Barac has been engaged by Barclays UK and Barclays International; digital receipt outfit Flux will get to run a pilot of its technology with over 10,000 Barclays customers; operational risk firm Alyne will help the bank beef up control functions and react to new regulations more effectively.


Barclays profits more than double

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Barclays says its profits more than doubled in the first three months of the year, boosted by better performance across the board.

Pre-tax profit for the first quarter was £1.682bn, up from £793m for the same period last year.

Chief executive Jes Staley said it had been “another quarter of strong progress towards the completion of the restructuring of Barclays”.

He said there was good reason to feel optimistic about the firm’s prospects.

The figure was better than analysts had predicted and comes despite a one-off goodwill impairment charge of £884m on the bank’s stake in Barclays Africa Group, which it intends to sell in the next two to three years.

“On Africa, we await approval for the separation arrangements already agreed with local management, following which we will be able to make further progress towards regulatory deconsolidation,” Mr Staley said.

In early trading, Barclays’ shares were down 3.5%.

Jes Staley said there was plenty of reason to be optimistic about Barclays’ future.

The same can’t be said of his own future.

He has already been seriously reprimanded by his own board and had his pay docked by more than a million pounds for attempting to unmask the identity of a whistleblower who questioned the appointment of a former colleague from JP Morgan.

He is under investigation for the matter by financial regulators, and several big shareholders have privately expressed doubt that he can continue in the glare of an incident that has put Barclays’ senior management culture back in an unwelcome spotlight.

‘Legacy issues’

Mr Staley said Barclays planned to hire about 2,000 new staff in the UK in the next three years, focused on technology.

He told Bloomberg the bank wanted to bring technology development back in house and reduce reliance on external contractors.

He also said it would increase the number of staff based in the EU, following the UK’s Brexit vote.

In its statement, Barclays said that “certain legal proceedings and investigations relating to legacy issues” were still outstanding.

In particular, it said the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) intended to make a decision shortly about “matters relating to our capital raisings in 2008”.

This refers to a long-running SFO investigation into a cash injection received by Barclays from Qatari investors at the height of the financial crisis.


Barclays security chief faces disciplinary action

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The head of security at Barclays faces an internal disciplinary probe over his part in a whistleblowing inquiry, the BBC understands.

UK financial regulators have opened an investigation into Barclays boss, Jes Staley, over the whistleblowing case.

Mr Staley asked the bank’s security chief, Troels Oerting, to find the author of an anonymous letter.

The letter questioned the past conduct of a senior recruit, Tim Main, who was a former colleague of Mr Staley.

The Barclays chief executive had worked with Mr Main for several years while they were at the investment bank JP Morgan.

Mr Staley has now received a formal reprimand and a personal financial penalty – which could exceed £1m – from his own board.

Mr Oerting formerly worked for Europol and is more familiar with being asked to tackle issues of fraud, money laundering and cyber crime.

As one insider put it: “He’s a former cop – he calls other cops”.

The anonymous letter had a US postmark and Mr Oerting contacted US federal law enforcement agencies to help track down its origin.

His enquiry has attracted the attention of the Department for Financial Services in the US.

He joined Barclays in 2015 after heading up Europol’s Cyber Crime Unit. The BBC is awaiting comment from Mr Oerting.

Apology

The attempt by Mr Staley to identify the person who sent the anonymous letter has been referred to the Financial Conduct Authority, and the Prudential Regulation Authority, as a potential breach of strict new rules concerning the treatment of whistleblowers.

Mr Staley has admitted he made an error of judgement by getting too personally involved in a matter which should have been left to bank compliance staff.

He has apologised to the board and tried to explain himself in a letter to staff.

Mr Staley told Barclays employees that he mistakenly did not consider the issue as one of whistleblowing, and instead saw it as an attempt to maliciously smear someone with previous personal problems.

The BBC understands that the anonymous letter did not raise any issues of which the personnel department at Barclays were unaware before Mr Main was hired.

The whole episode is an unusual and unwelcome distraction for a bank that is trying to put reputational problems behind it.

The bank’s board held a four hour meeting on Sunday to consider the appropriate penalties for Mr Staley – including his potential dismissal.

Mr Staley is popular within the firm and with investors.

Whether that, and the penalties already imposed on him, will be enough to pacify regulators who value, and protect, whistleblowers is yet to be seen.


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