Barclays shows how to get out of a blunder

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Preferred option: A worker cleans a Barclays logo outside a bank branch in London. Barclays sees good corporate loan growth as companies look more to banks for finance while bond markets have suffered a collapse in demand. — Reuters

WHEN you make a mistake, it’s best to come clean and fix it as quickly as you can.

That’s what Barclays Plc appears to be doing with its embarrassing error selling investment products in the United States for which it didn’t have permission.

It’s still going to be costly, but if things turn out as the UK bank now expects, then the whole episode could ultimately reflect well on C.S. Venkatakrishnan in his first year as chief executive officer.

The problem came to light in the first quarter when Barclays spotted it had forgotten to file a simple approval request with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue structured notes.

Unfortunately, it noticed it a year after the filing should have gone in. It was a black mark on an otherwise strong first three months.

The second quarter hasn’t been so kind in the underlying business, and the bank increased the expected costs of fixing the structured-note debacle in its results on Thursday.

Barclays took a charge of £1.3bil (RM7bil) in the first half of 2022, most of which is to cover the expected costs of buying back the securities that it shouldn’t have sold. About US$200mil (RM890mil) of the charge is to cover an expected SEC fine.

This is much higher than the bank’s earlier £540mil (RM2.9bil) estimate for the costs of sorting out the error.




But here’s what it has done well: On the regulatory side, engaging with the SEC early has meant Barclays can already be reasonably sure about the penalty it will pay.

At the same time, it quickly put in place hedges to protect against swings in the value of the notes between now and when investors elect whether to sell them back to Barclays.

Those trades generated profits of £758mil (RM4.1bil) in the second quarter, cutting the current cost of the whole affair in half.

It is still a painful and embarrassing hit – and there’s always a danger that the hedges and final costs of buying back the notes won’t line up perfectly.

But as an exercise in owning up and cleaning up, Venkat, as the CEO is widely known, appears to have made the right calls.

The job of dealing with this mess belongs to the equities-trading business, which did poorly in the second quarter compared with rivals.

Revenue was down 25% in dollar terms versus the same three-month period last year. Every other US and European bank to report so far had revenue gains.

The bank says that the business is still progressing well from its modest base of a few years ago and that fixing the structured-note problem wasn’t a distraction to its traders.

Elsewhere, the bank’s bond and currency trading business was the highlight.

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