Bob Diamond is arguably the best CEO Barclays ever had and the latest rumour that he’s about to buy Barclays’ Africa assets just cements that theory.
The Financial Times is reporting that Diamond has “held preliminary talks with global investors who he hopes will put hundreds of millions of dollars into a deal to buy Barclays’ African operations outside of South Africa.”
It’s pretty sweet revenge for Diamond as the deal would mean snapping up one of his old employers’ most profitable assets — returns from
Barclays’ Africa unit far outstrip those of the investment bank.
For example, in 2015, return on tangible equity for Barclays Africa banking was at 11.7% compared with 6% at the investment bank. Earnings also surged 11% last year.
Diamond has always had an eye for what makes a profit and how to run an investment bank and right up until a group of traders in Barclays were found to have attempted to rig LIBOR — he was one of the world’s most successful banking CEOs.
“Earn success every day”
Diamond left his post as Barclays’ boss soon after the lender became the first bank in the world to settle with US and UK authorities after the LIBOR scandal.
LIBOR — or the London Interbank Offered Rate — is the daily measure meant to show the rate at which banks will lend to each other and is used to set the price of hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of financial products.
But up until then Barclays was directly competing with Wall Street behemoths and successfully managed to secure funding from Qatar in order to avoid a bailout from the government during the financial crisis.
He was a Wall Street man on the Square Mile. An American rock star in The City.
Diamond’s motto was “earn success every day,” and that was his employees’ war cry. During Diamond’s reign, Barclays was all about risk, high returns, and a focus on cutting-edge trading technology. Retail finance was a mere sidecar to keep consumer operations in order.
Despite not being directly implicated in the LIBOR fixing, Diamond was largely blamed for fostering the “toxic culture” that led to the bank’s fixing fine.
He was then replaced by the now-fired CEO Antony Jenkins — known as the “Mr. Nice” of banking who was the bank’s retail chief before his elevation. He was the exact fit for what Barclays was looking for at the time — someone to keep the public and politicians happy after the Libor crisis. His clunky motto was “helping people achieve their ambitions, the right way.”
He was the antidote to Diamond. And he was fired in 2015. Barclays then hired Jes Staley who was tipped to unravel everything Jenkins had done.
However, after Staley unveiled a loss for 2015, a new structure, and his proposed sell-off of Barclays Africa — it looks like the bank is giving Diamond all the tools he needs to build his own empire.
Staley’s Barclays Africa unit sell-off is incredibly myopic. The short-term gains from a sale should be outweighed by the prospects of greater returns.
But this is why and where Diamond proves his mettle. Much like his careful long-term craft of building Barclays into a globally competitive bank — he is already creating his own empire through long-term views of Africa.
When Diamond left Barclays in 2012 he quickly set up Atlas Mara in 2013 — a London-listed group that provides a vehicle for investing in African banks. Basically it was formed to undertake the acquisition of target banks in Africa.
Atlas Mara is already a success. It raised $635 million (£441 million) on the London Stock Exchange, has 1,600 employees, and $2.6 billion in assets.
Diamond may have set up Atlas Mara relatively quickly but the group provides a comprehensive explanation on its site and through investor presentations about how Africa may still be developing but the long-term returns could be massive.
So watch this space. Diamond may not be in The City or on Wall Street anymore but he is creating his own empire which may make Barclays kick itself for letting him walk out the door in the first place.
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