Do ‘big boys’ Barclays need cutting down to size? Here’s a campaign from 2000 that suggests they do

A lot of people are accusing Barclays Bank and its chief executive Bob Diamond of racketeering. Acting like white collar gangsters, in other words. They say the bank and its principal directors colluded in serial distortion of the interbank rate, Libor.

What this means in plain English is that they beggared us – the saps who are customers – with artificially heightened interest rates on loans and mortgages – in order to enrich first themselves, through bigger bonuses, and then their shareholders, through bigger dividends. Barclays has been fined a total of £290m by the regulatory authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. But it’s the thin edge of a very thick financial wedge. Once the lawyers get weaving on behalf of aggrieved customers, who knows where the liability will end up?

Martin Taylor, a former Barclays CEO himself, summed it up best on this morning’s Today Programme. He said that Barclays had engaged in “systematic dishonesty” between the years 2006 and 2009. While he didn’t explicitly link Diamond – who then happened to be head of BarCap, the division most closely tied to the scandal – with fraud carried out on a gigantic scale, he did say that chief executives set the cultural tone of the businesses they run. Implication: Diamond should retire to the discreetest room in his penthouse suite and make good use of a service revolver.

Diamond – Taylor implied – may, or may not, have colluded in such corrupt dealing practices. But they certainly happened on his watch, so he was, at the very least grossly negligent.

Now I know what I’m going to say isn’t going to be popular, but I’ll say it all the same. Was Bob (pictured) so very wrong in what he did – or rather, for the sake of any legal eagles looking in – er, what he didn’t do? I mean, at least Barclays Bank took not a penny of public money in the wake of the Lehman Bros collapse. All right, they were pretty stupid to allow such an unredacted and inculpatory email trail to get into the hands of the regulators.

But at least you won’t hear any trading floor intercepts along the following lines: “Dude, thanks a billion in taxpayers’ credits. I owe you big time. But not as much as I owe the taxpayer. Come over after work and let’s break open the Bollie.”

Unlike RBS and Lloyds, both big recipients of taxpayers’ bailouts, who – along with HSBC, Citigroup, JP Morgan, UBS, Deutsche Bank and others I probably don’t even know of yet – seem to be up to their gills in interest rate rigging mire as well. Poor old RBS. Talk about reputational damage: it’s not only guilty of systemic incompetence with customers’ direct debits, but seemingly of “systematic dishonesty” in charging them higher interest rates. Will this publicly-owned company ever recover?

But I digress. Bob’s is the head that everyone wants to stick on a pike over Tower Gate. That’s because everything about Bob is Big and Boastful. Biggest salary, biggest bonus, biggest ego. He is, in short, the archetypal arrogant, swaggering, fat cat.

And as such, he has been entirely consistent with Barclays brand values over the years. Do you not remember Barclays brand ambassador Anthony Hopkins telling us how, if you weren’t big, you were nothing in banking circles? You don’t, do you? So, here to remind you is a superbly-crafted ad by Leagas Delaney, dating from 2000.

Sometimes, you see, advertising really can convey complex, uncomfortable, inner truths – without the client even noticing. Bob did, of course. He’s been a part of Barclays’ cultural furniture since 1996. He took the message very seriously indeed and acted out the part. What a brand martyr the man is!

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About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK's leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.

One comment

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    I’m waiting to see the first reference to ‘Rough Diamond’, it is only a matter if time!