Barclays War on Culture Change

Barclays is again in the limelight due to a damaging report on the deviant culture existing in the Investment division. After LIBOR rate fixing scandal and quick departures of senior managers, trouble is again brewing in Barclays. The COO of Investment banking division, Andrew Tinney quit when it was discovered that he shredded the only copy of a report that clearly stated the bullying culture of the organization. Then the new CEO, Anthony Jenkins discovered when an internal whistle blower mentioned it to him. He sent out a message to staff on culture change. Here are some insights into the story.

1. The Damaging Report on Dysfunctional Culture

Daily Mail story states that the report prepared by Genesis Ventures – “paints a devastating picture of incompetence and arrogance at the bank, showing that executives:

  • Pursued a ‘revenue at all costs’ strategy.
  • Fostered a culture of fear and intimidation.
  • Were ‘actively hostile’ to the idea of compliance with banking rules.
  • Presided over a ‘broken culture’ where problems were ignored or buried.
  • Allowed the business to spin ‘out of control.”

The senior management intentionally understaffed support functions, was hostile to compliance and attacked those who spoke contrary to senior management views. A senior manager threw the risk management report publically saying – “this is a piece of s***” showing utter contempt and disregard for the same.

The summarization of the report states – ‘The senior team portray themselves as all-powerful and all-knowing… and people chose to disagree with them at their own peril. It is a mentality of superiority which, when combined with other deficiencies, stops the team from tackling their blind spots. When those deficiencies are in compliance, this results in serious issues that no one else has the power to address.

The bank’s culture has become completely deviant, and it will be a long road ahead for significant change to occur. The problem is that this issue is prevailing in other banks also. They depict the same culture and attitude. Unless we understand why it is occurring and senior managers take sincere steps, nothing positive will happen.

 2. The Psychological Explanation

Western banks are known for their arrogant and aggressive culture. Some view arrogance as a positive trait and humility as a negative trait, while the opposite is true. Stanley Silverman developed Workplace Arrogance Scale to measure arrogance level in the organizations. He stated the arrogant people demean others to prove superiority and competence. However, as per his results arrogant people showed lower intelligence and self-esteem in comparison to their peers. He identified four red flags to identify arrogant behaviour:

  • Does your boss put his/her personal agenda ahead of the organization’s agenda?
  • Does the boss discredit others’ ideas during meetings and often make them look bad?
  • Does your boss reject constructive feedback?
  • Does the boss exaggerate his/her superiority and make others feel inferior?

If you link back to the damaging report, the senior management at Barclays showed these traits in abundance. Even during the financial crises, the bankers didn’t feel apologetic and showed no humility. Now, being in such senior positions one cannot say they lack intelligence, however, questioning their self-esteem is definitely a valid path.

In another psychological study conducted by Angela Y. Lee, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, it was determined that people with low self-esteem defend the brands more when their favourite brands are attacked. This explains why bankers refused to change and continued their behaviour when under attack during the financial crises.

3. The CEO Message for Culture Change

Deal Book reported that Anthony Jenkins, the CEO of Barclays sent a mail out to the staff with a clear message – “change or leave”. He categorically stated the values – Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence and Stewardship – to be adopted by Barclays employees. He further added that those who do not change their behavior are free to leave. His words were – “My message to those people is simple: Barclays is not the place for you. The rules have changed. You won’t feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won’t feel comfortable with you as colleagues.

He highlighted that in the last two decades financial institutions pursued profits and compromised integrity and reputation of the organization. He said there is no choice between values and profits. Employees must pursue profits while maintaining values. Evaluation of ethical behaviour will be incorporated in performance appraisal process.

That is a very strong message from the CEO of the organization to transform the culture of the organization. Two questions in everyone’s minds are – will they succeed and how long will it take.

Closing thoughts

Bill Gates had famously said – “The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.” Maybe organizations should care about the self-esteem of their employees and their senior management team. Studies have shown that people with higher self-esteem show more ethical behaviour and are less likely to get involved in wrongful acts. The present trend of pursuing material gains at the expense of personal values destroys self-esteem in the long run. Bankers have shown extreme tendencies to flaunt expensive toys to feel good and build a superior image. In all probability, they are caught in a catch-22 situation at a psychological level. It might not be possible to change the culture without addressing the core issues faced by the staff.


  1. Exposed: The regime of fear inside Barclays – and how the boss lied and shredded the evidence
  2. Identifying the arrogant boss
  3. Leave My Brand Alone – Kellogg School of Management
  4. New Barclays Chief Tells Staff to Accept Changes or Leave



5 comments on “Barclays War on Culture Change

  1. Hi Sonia,

    Well written post. Surely, there has to be a fundamental shift in how all employees at operational, middle or senior level conduct themselves in the workplace. Common sense always denotes that before doing something, one has to question his/her decision making but this is not common practice. I am appalled by the decision of the former COO to shred a document of such nature for his personal gain. One would expect a person of such calibre to act with integrity, professionally and ethically. With greed so much pervasive in many of the world’s financial institutions, it’s no doubt that sound decision making is now a thing of the past. This “I’m untouchable or I am all that” mentality is the reason why we have seen so many executives make flawed decisions and get away with. The new Batclays CEO might be on the right path to change this prevailing culture but what he has to understand is “culture change is easier said than done”. Most of these employees have worked in the industry for years and have developed this marcho culture over these years, hence they will just not drop these tendencies after one night. It’s going to be a bumpy road for the CEO but what remains to be seen is whether the firmness in his statement will be followed by positive results. He should expect some form of resistance but if he is to clean up the bank, he should not be only a man of words but action too.

    • Thanks Peter for the compliment. As you rightly pointed out, words are insufficient and actions are required. Unless that happens, the banks will continue to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons on a daily basis.


  2. Ramesh Kumar Nanjundaiya • It is certainly possible to change the working culture in an organisation notwithstanding the most serious of damage to the franchise. As an ex senior lending banker with well known international banks in W.Europe and the Middle East countries, I am an independent freelance market perception researcher on the Bank’s damaged franchise, image, trust deficit issues and customer’s perception of the bank. My research indicates that today Bank’s that are interested in improving their image, franchise, customer trust and willing to undertake ethical business going forward (which they had spoilt due to greed and cheating), should foremost understand that their banking, customer business relationship and lending activity has the potential to impact both in a positive and negative way on communities, economies and on the environment. Affected bank’s have to therefore be in a position to identify and manage sustainability considerations in lending so as to be a differentiator and improve their dented image and franchise. A quick start on this initiative is to adopt sustainable business process along with the Equator Principles – a voluntary commitment to fund those projects/businesses that can be developed in a way that is socially responsible and reflects sound environmental management practice taking into account standard banking laws and norms. By this way, bank’s can expect to earn respect and improve all the above issues.

    • Thanks for sharing your views. You must target British banks. Recently a survey by Economic times showed the customer confidence of banks in various countries. India was around 75%, US 50% and Britain 25%. Really sad, they way London financial market has been destroyed by greed. Every big bank has millions of dollars of fines to pay, they pay one and the next case appears. They refuse to change, because over 2 decades they have indulged in insatiable greed without any repercussions.


      • Banking Business today – Thank you for your prompt and kind observations and suggestions. My research indicates that in order to regain customer confidence, banks, going forward have to give back financial power to their customers (people). After all those global financial crisis (still ongoing), customers today want banking services to be affordable, transparent, sustaining and show environmental and social responsibility, more so for British banks. International banks would have realised by now that the days of making “quick money aggressively” by selling engineered and gene mutation of financial products is all over. To earn respect (and business) now, banks have only one way to go, undertake sustainable business and respect nature. I shall take your suggestion to tap English banks as they seem to need immediate assistance.

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