Barclays Bankers Bemoan "Double-Digit" Bonus Cuts As Profits Rebound

Paging all European investment bankers (or at least the ones who still have jobs): If you haven't already, now would probably be a good time to update your resume and reach out to that old counterparty at JPM.

Because Barclays is the latest European investment banking giant to slash banker bonuses for 2019, despite all signs pointing to a blockbuster year for both the American equity market and American banks.

According to the FT, Barclays i-bankers have been complaining about a double-digit decline in the bank's bonus pool for 2019, a necessary sacrifice for CEO Jes Staley's desperation to hit a profitability target and disprove the criticisms of a certain troublesome activist. Of course, the decision to cut bonuses was telegraphed by the bank far in advance, as we reported back in April. This comes after the bank increased its bonus pool last year for the first time since 2013.

Now that Deutsche Bank has committed to dramatically shrinking its investment bank, Barclays is one of the only remaining bulge bracket banks from Europe. Staley has been trading barbs with activist investor Edward Bramson, who is pushing a strategy of cuts to the investment bank to increase the emphasis on Barclays' lucrative consumer business. Staley insists that he can turn around the bloated investment bank by making it more efficient.

According to Barclays last earnings report, the bank achieved a 9.6% ROTE during the first nine months of 2019, leaving it on track to hit its 10% target in 2020. Given the stakes, Staley is doing everything he can to ensure that the bank hits this target, since both his reputation and potentially the survival of the investment bank may depend on it. The investment bank also logged a strong Q3 profit (it jumped 41% YoY) and it's expected that the bank, like many of its American peers, took in more trading revenue last quarter.

"Jes has made it clear that we are going to hit the 9 per cent target come hell or high water," said one Barclays managing director. "Costs are the easiest way to do this, so he’s squeezing the lemon."

For years, former Barclays investment bank head Tim Throsby protected the division from bonus cuts during lean years. But now that he's gone (he was fired last year), one of FT's sources estimated that the drop in the bonus pool was "in the mid-teens", and that bankers wouldn't complain too loudly since they "made up for lost ground" in 2018.

"We are not asking people to get slaughtered, but it will be noticeable," one of the people said. "We underpaid in 2017 and made up a lot of that ground in 2018 under Tim Throsby, and now we are obviously asking for some of that back."

It appears that several Barclays executives tried to convince the FT that the bonus-pool cut isn't a big deal, since the bank goes to great lengths to ensure its total compensation is on par with its American rivals. Besides, the cuts still aren't as deep as the 20%-30% reduction of the Deutsche Bank bonus pool.

Of course, comparing your bank to Deutsche isn't exactly a winning strategy for combating discontent among the ranks.