Barclays’ John Varley to lead British banks £180bn long overdue charm offensive

Crikey that sounds a lot of money and, before you get too excited, that £180bn isn’t the marketing budget for the latest, and most serious, effort by the much-criticised British banking fraternity to persuade UK consumers (and politicians) that they’re not barely-disguised robber barons.

But outgoing Barclays CEO John Varley is to lead a concerted effort to improve the banks’ image and standing by promising to lend £180bn a year to British companies and also by backing PM David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ bank, designed to fund community projects, with £1.5bn between them. This follows another promise to support a venture capital fund with another £1.5bn.

And, as we’re talking billions here, they are trying to find a way to reduce the annual banking bonus pool from around £7bn to £4bn.

This all sounds very fine, and to an extent it is, but the £180bn lending figure only means that Barclays, HSBC and presumably ever-growing Santander will match the amounts already pledged by state-owned RBS and Lloyds (£50bn and £44bn respectively) on a pro rata basis according to their size.

As for Varley he’s long been the most user-friendly bank boss (which isn’t saying a lot), possibly influenced by former Wall Street Journal Europe editor Patience Wheatcroft during her brief stint as a Barclays director. Wheatcroft has recently been ennobled by the coalition government and may well find herself playing a role in government over matters banking.

But we can expect to see and hear a lot more from Varley, who earlier in his career had the good fortune to marry Carolyn Pease, a member of the Quaker family whose bank became part of Barclays in 1902.

This will take some of the heat off the long-suffering Angela Knight, CEO of the British Bankers Association who has had the thankless task of fronting up to be shouted at by various journalists and commentators over banking excesses for the past few years.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.