Bad Bank, better scanners & female financial careers

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

We knew it was coming, that Barclays would slash its investment banking division down to size. But even more jobs will go than analysts had expected – in total, 19,000 jobs cuts in the next couple of years. Barclays will be shifting its focus to four core businesses, which include personal and corporate banking, Barclaycard, Africa banking and the investment bank. Some of the unwanted parts of the investment bank are expected to be placed in a non-core division – a so-called “bad bank”.

Boss Antony Jenkins calls it a “bold simplification”. He said “In the future, Barclays will be leaner, stronger, much better balanced and well-positioned to deliver lower volatility, higher returns and growth”. The markets liked it.

Longterm, I wonder whether it is enough to really reshape Barclay’s reputation. Don’t forget, this cost-cutting has been going on for some time and this is only the latest strategy update, Jenkin’s third since taking the helm after Bob Diamond left in the wake of the Libor-rigging scandal.  The message is that there could be more to come. Yet the bank still raised those 2013 bonuses. Oh and in case you missed it, the bank reported a fall in profits. Jenkins needs to show that this new strategy is more than tinkering, otherwise one of those job cuts might just be his very own.

imagesHigh-tech liquid scanner for carry-ons

On a lighter note, this Tuesday I joined Simon Lederman on his BBC London 949 show, to talk about stories in the news. We covered house prices, the economy and why we British are still worlds away from becoming the nation of shareholders that the United States is. We unpicked one leading educator’s plans to put  computer games like Angry Birds on the National Curriculum. 

As a regular business traveller, my favourite story was about a new airport scanner which could take much of the hassle of security check-in away. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we could bin the entire tiresome security procedure of showing hand luggage liquids, decanting just the right allocation of toothpaste, or having to discard your favourite perfume at the gate because the bottle breached the 100ml capacity rules. Engineers in Oxfordshire have developed the Insight100, which is on trial at 65 airports including Gatwick and Heathrow, in a bid to make identifying liquids carried in hand luggage easier. The machine analyses liquid contents of bottles in 5 seconds without opening them and could speed up airport security queues. Not only could we carry more liquid again, but we could get going on holiday more quickly – and nobody can I argue with that.

images-1Girls on top

Last week I moderated a panel at the “NLCS Women in Finance Symposium” – a careers evening at my old school, North London Collegiate, designed to introduce the students (all girls), to careers in the financial sector. It was a network-tastic evening, and we heard from some really inspirational women in banking, accountancy, hedge funds and more, showcasing the scope that a career in The City can offer: it really isn’t just about men in grey suits crunching numbers in dingy open-plan trading rooms.

As a starting point, the school teamed up with Bank of America Merrill Lynch to commission a YouGov poll: Female students and the finance sector. The survey found that 43% had ruled out a career in finance and only one in three young women would consider working in the “male-dominated” financial world, underlining the industry’s difficulty in improving its gender balance.

The world of finance isn’t short of impressive female role models: Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve; Christine Lagarde at the IMF; Inga Beale, the first female CEO in Lloyd’s of London 350-year history; Helena Morrissey, CEO money-manager and campaigner for more women in the boardroom; Joanna Shields and Sherry Coutu who have ended the male monopoly on the London Stock Exchange’s board. 

However, women still remain under-represented in finance, especially at the most senior levels. According to research from the World Economic Forum, women make up 60% of the global workforce across the financial services industry but hold only 14% of board seats and 2% of CEO positions.

My panel of women was made up of high flying fund managers, bankers, accountancy firm partners and entrepreneurs – a group of women in strong, leadership positions, who had got to where they were neither because of or despite being women.

What we took away was that no-one wants quotas to get greater female representation in the financial world. All the women on my panel were adamant they had succeeded in their fields on merit. They did acknowledge that the spotlight is firmly on them, because they are women, perhaps conferring a greater responsibility to set good examples at work. Being more conspicuous has its advantages: their wins are more visible, their achievements potentially stand out more. Conversely, they are more exposed when it comes to mistakes. So perhaps women in finance subconsciously work harder to avoid making any at all. And that would explain why the few we read, hear and talk about, are all very much at the top of their game.