Barclays CEO: We Aren't at Odds With Regulators
Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins has denied any conflict between his bank and its regulators, even as the U.K. banking giant tries to fend off pressure to meet stricter capital requirements.
Last month, the Bank of England's new Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) surprised the industry by enforcing a 3 percent leverage ratio target on lenders, and singled out Barclays, which has a ratio of 2.5 percent after adjustments, as among banks that fall short of the target.
Barclays responded last Friday by warning it may have to cut lending to households and businesses to meet the new financial requirements, drawing a swift and sharp comeback from the Bank of England, which said restricting lending would not be accepted.
"I don't describe it as a pitched battle at all, we have a very constructive relationship with our regulators," Jenkins told CNBC in an exclusive interview on CNBC's "Asia Squawk Box" on Thursday.
Jenkins said the PRA's target was "understandable and a reasonable request."
"In February we launched a plan called 'Transform' and under the plan we made a series of commitments to build our capital and get our return on equity above the cost of equity by the end of 2015 and we are very comfortable given the work we've done in the past six months...What we're talking about with the regulators is timing," said Jenkins.
"Reducing lending to the real economy is something that we want to avoid, and by the way we love lending, that's our business. I wouldn't characterize it at all as conflict," he added.
Barclays has long had a fraught relationship with regulators. Jenkins took over from ousted CEO Bob Diamond in August last year, following the scandal surrounding Barclays' manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor), which cost the bank £290 million ($442 million) in fines.
Jenkins, who has been dubbed "Saint Antony" by some in the City of London, has pledged to convert Barclays from a bank whose ethos has revolved around profit maximization to one where success is measured through "respect," "integrity" and "service."
Steps he has taken include closing the bank's Structured Capital Markets division, a highly profitable group designed to help the bank's clients avoid taxes, instructing the board not to award him a bonus for 2012. He's also talked of the possibility of a near 30 percent reduction in staff headcount to reduce costs.
Jenkins told CNBC it was impossible to completely eliminate "people who do bad things" from banking culture.
"You can always, in an organization of 140,000 people, have people who do bad things. The important thing for us is that we detect those things and deal with them quickly and the culture doesn't permit to continue and exist," he added.
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He added that transforming the bank into a more values-based bank would inevitably cost money.
"There are certain activities that we are stopping that will cost us several hundreds of millions of pounds... and of course we are spending £2.7 billion on 'Transform' over the next three years. If you are serious about running the organization in a different way it has to cost you money otherwise it's just fine words," he added.
Jenkins said the bank had taken steps to protect its balance sheet amid recent volatility in the financial markets, prompted by investor anxiety over the impacts of tapering.
"We hedge our positions in our balance sheet, particularly our liability positions over a long period of time... So we are protected from those ups and downs and fluctuations in the balance sheet itself.
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"We do think the volatility in the global economy reflects a lot of uncertainty out there. Our core view is that over ten to twenty years we are entering a period of structurally lower growth... and that is going to be a more challenging environment for business," he said.
Jenkins added that he saw Asia and Africa as focal points of economic growth over the next 10 to 20 years.
"I do believe that here in Asia we will see a higher growth than we've seen in other parts of the world...and of course the markets in Africa where we are strongly positioned," he said.