Barclays is to shed around 14,000 jobs in 2014, we learnt last week, more than half of them in the UK. These head-count cuts are largely about the on-going process of humdrum branch closures – not only in Britain, but also in Spain, Italy, Portugal and France. Such job losses are sadly inevitable, given the rise of mobile and on-line banking.
This Barclays announcement, though, was spun rather differently. Rather than discussions about banks’ reduced presence on the High Street, our airwaves were instead filled with tales of Barclays’ “courage”, as it distanced itself from “casino banking” in a “decisive break with the past”.
Some 2,000 of this year’s job cuts are in Barclays’ 26,000-strong investment banking division. More such posts are to go, the bank tells us, in 2015 and 2016.
Finally, the British political classes are starting to get it. Finally, a head of steam is building. Over the last week, calls to impose a proper division between investment and commercial banking have become louder, more authoritative and part of mainstream debate. Pressure for the introduction – or re-introduction – of this crucial split could soon become irresistible, however much the politicians wiggle and the investment bankers deceive.
Until now, it’s been mainly nerds like me who’ve advocated a full Glass-Steagall separation. Given the vested interests that would lose from this change, we’ve been lampooned for our “hot-headed” views. Yes – our message is awkward. Life would become difficult (and less lucrative) for a lot of powerful people, were we to prevail. Yet we “Glass-Steagallers” are right. We have history, logic and common sense on our side. And now – thanks to Barclays ex-CEO Bob Diamond, and “Liborgate” – we also have political momentum.