Rebuilding trust not enough to save Barclays chief Antony Jenkins

And so it is that Barclays has become the latest major bank to change its chief executive; joining the likes of Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Standard Chartered as the sector continues to respond to the growing operational and reputational challenges that are driving its evolution.

Nick Woods: Rebuilding trust would always be slow progress
Nick Woods: Rebuilding trust would always be slow progress

No doubt over the coming days and weeks there will be detailed reviews of Antony Jenkins’ tenure but what is clear is that his departure raises several significant questions about the progress the bank has made since his appointment in 2012 and more specifically whether his much lauded Transform initiative has delivered any real long-term change.

Grandly unveiled as part of Jenkins’ vision for the future of Barclays, Transform clearly outlined the strategic direction of the bank at the operational, cultural and reputational level.

Following the demise of Bob Diamond it sought to rebuild trust across the business’ key stakeholders underpinned by a strong social value-led narrative and a sprinkling of "this time it’s different".

For many it was a landmark moment, a manifesto that aligned the interests of stakeholders and provided a route back to profitable growth. For others it was simply corporate communications at its best (or worst).

What is clear with 20/20 hindsight is that rebuilding Barclays' reputation while delivering shareholder value was always going to be incredibly difficult for a number of reasons.

Firstly, one must consider the issue of trust. It’s a fickle thing and something that can’t be achieved overnight. Moreover building it is a task made all the more difficult against a tide of ongoing misconduct fines and scepticism among customers, politicians and regulators; not just towards Barclays but to the entire industry.

Secondly, Jenkins was trying to implement cultural change across a global business and a beast driven by many antagonistic forces; an investment bank in London and New York, a strong UK retail and commercial business and a presence in Africa. Navigating this landscape requires significant investment to ensure that internal positioning is consistent and that engagement remains high.

These tensions seem to have been heightened by Jenkins’ reputation as a "traditionalist" more akin to the bank’s retail operations than driving necessary change in what was regarded to be an underperforming and unfocused investment bank.

Lastly, such dynamics have been played out against a difficult macro-economic backdrop coupled with spiralling regulatory costs and the influx of new market entrants who can genuinely claim to have a blank slate underpinned by more cost-effective business models.

The moral of the story? What is clear is that the dynamic between reputation, financial returns and various stakeholder groups is one that must be handled carefully and underpinned by a clear, consistent and integrated communication strategy.

While Jenkins has no doubt made progress in rebuilding trust in the Barclays brand (and such efforts should be applauded), it has been, and was always going to be, slow progress. Ultimately he has paid the price for the failure of this reputational restoration to deliver bottom-line impact.

Nick Woods is associate partner at Instinctif Partners

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