Magazine article Global Finance

On the Ground: In London

Magazine article Global Finance

On the Ground: In London

Article excerpt

Think stereotypical Canadian, and one envisages a hale and hearty outdoors type-a product of the country's mountains and fresh, alpine air. So when Barclays' new group chief executive, the Irish-Canadian Matthew Barrett, promised to "walk the talk;' one expected a little vigor in his step. Indeed, if his glib speeches are anything to go by, he's got quite a hike to do.

Barrett, former chairman and chief executive of Canada's Bank of Montreal, arrived at Barclays in October last year when the UK financial institution decided there was no suitable British banker to fill its top job. In a year when all banks were struggling to reinvent themselves for the new digital economy Barclays had a considerable challenge to meet, having underperformed two years running.

In February, Barrett met with the financial community for the first time to extol his vision for Barclays. Everything about him-his appearance, his demeanor, his talk-flew in the face of the bank's centuries-old tradition. Tanned and grandly mustachioed, he delivered his speech from a white box where he sat, legs crossed, evidently at his ease.

Certainly, there was good news to be savored -and sold to the market. The bank had enjoyed a 30% rise in pretax profits in 1999, up to L2.46 billion ($3.87 billion). There was a 16% increase in its retail banking operating profits, to L1.71 billion, and Barclays Capital, which had smarted the year before from a 270 million loss, could boast a 316 million profit.

But profits are no longer the big crowd pleaser these e-business days.And banks are certainly parse. Luckily, Barrett had something far more exciting up his sleeve: the Internet and where Barclays saw its future there. "Five years from today there will be no e-business and no dot-com companies," he prophesied.A tad melodramatic but all to good effect. Barrett wanted to convince the market that the current Internet hype would ultimately subside. …

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