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Barclays’ snooping scandal

Jes Staley, Barclays’ chief executive, tried to unmask the identity of a whistleblower. Bad move, says Ben Judge.

Jes Staley, Barclays' chief executive, tried to unmask the identity of a whistleblower. Bad move, says Ben Judge.

Jes Staley, the chief executive of Barclays, is in trouble with both regulators and his own board after revelations that he broke rules designed to protect whistleblowers. Last year the bank received two anonymous letters raising "concerns of a personal nature" about a senior bank employee, Barclays said in a statement. The bank's recruitment process was also questioned.

Staley considered the letters an "unfair personal attack" on the senior employee and asked his information security team to unmask the authors, but was informed that this action was "not appropriate". Undeterred, in an "honestly held but mistaken belief that he had clearance", a month later he continued his quest, involving not only the bank's security team, but "a US law enforcement agency". The author of the letters was never found. Staley is now under investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), has been reprimanded by the board, and will lose his bonus, which would have been around £1.3m.

One interpretation of this is that "Jes Staley is the kind of stand-up guy you want as your boss", says Jim Armitage in the Evening Standard. "An old pal was being slandered and Staley wanted to know who on the payroll was doing the dirty. Good on him." If Staley had been "running a Catford chip shop", that might be fine. But he's not. "Barclays is one of the biggest companies in the world" and its 73,000 employees need to "know they are safe to speak up if they see or suspect wrongdoing or mistakes without being subject to a witch-hunt to uncover their identity". That's not just desirable, it's "a clear requirement City regulators repeatedly bang on about".

What's odd is that, having been told "no", Staley carried on, says Kadhim Shubber in the Financial Times. Perhaps he is hard of hearing. "Maybe he lacks impulse control, like a sugar-crazed toddler." Alternatively, "the man in charge of a systemically important bank has so little respect for whistleblowing that he tries to unmask people who make complaints he doesn't agree with".

Even if Staley survives, "this episode looks far murkier than the open-and-shut internal inquiry suggests", says Lionel Laurent on Bloomberg Gadfly. It goes "right to the heart of Barclays' internal culture, implying that staff are at risk of unfair treatment as a result of weak institutional processes". Staley "didn't just make an error of judgment". There was "an apparent breakdown of the constraints that ought to keep him in check". Both boss and bank still have "a lot of ground to cover".

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