A season for banking CEOs to head for the exit
Ditching chief executives has become a popular sport again in finance - almost regaining the high point of 2008-9 when banks seemed to lose bosses as fast as they shed market value.
This time, the action has been in Europe, more than in the US, with recent handovers of power at Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Standard Chartered and Barclays. Seven years of post-crisis stabilisation and regulatory pressure have taken a tougher toll on European bank bosses than on their US counterparts, where financial recovery has been speedier. There has even been a regulatory change at the top, with Martin Wheatley ousted from the UK's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The circumstances of the departures vary a lot. But there is enough common ground - especially in Britain - to draw a handful of broader conclusions.
Defenestration is in: Look at the statements announcing Antony Jenkins' exit from Barclays and Wheatley's from the FCA and it is pretty clear they were sacked. The Barclays announcement is brutally direct.
You could see this as a refreshing change - there was no mention of the departing bosses wanting to "spend time with their family" or "pursue other opportunities". They were told to go because they were no longer deemed the right people for the job.
But the unvarnished style has not caught on everywhere. The contrast between the Barclays announcement and the dignified resignation of Anshu Jain at rival Deutsche Bank was striking. Friends of Jenkins were peeved on his behalf that, having overseen a far stronger share price development than the other AJ and with no personal grief from regulators, he was the one who was harshly treated, while Jain enjoyed a gushing epitaph from Deutsche Bank chairman Paul Achleitner.
Friends matter: It is a lesson that the last Barclays chief executive taught us. The charismatic Bob Diamond might have been a popular figure within the bank but, by the time he was ejected by the Bank of England, he had estranged a panoply of other stakeholders - politicians, investors, the media and regulators.
Jenkins was generally liked by politicians and regulators, and tolerated by investors and the media. But he built no bridges internally, refusing to set foot inside Barclays' investment bank and infuriating non-executives with what they saw as a defensive, standoffish attitude. Wheatley suffered a similar fate for similar reasons. Financiers have long complained that the FCA boss was extracting increasingly large fines. But they have complained louder still about his manner of regulating. "He wasn't constructive or transparent. He always assumed everyone was cheating," says one City boss.
Politicians are not anti-finance any more: Eight years after the outbreak of the financial crisis, the political mood towards the financial services industry has softened. Just look at the Financial Stability Board's retreat from regulating asset managers as systemically important financial institutions, following pressure from US groups.
The change of tone seems starkest in the UK, where Osborne's landmark Mansion House speech in June talked of a "new settlement for financial services". The chancellor rather undermined that rhetoric when he announced a new 8 per cent supertax for the banking sector a few weeks later. But the phased reduction of the controversial bank levy was a boost. It was designed to reduce the burden on the likes of StanChart and HSBC and persuade them not to shift headquarters out of the UK. The removal of Wheatley at the FCA was the biggest signal yet that the government is moving away from attack-dog regulation.
Hiring impressive new CEOs will be harder: Despite the softening tone from policymakers, new legislative powers are still working their way into force. The UK's Senior Managers Regime (SMR) looms over executives and non-execs alike.
For Barclays, which is on the hunt for a chief executive, the SMR will be just one worry. More off-putting may be the manner in which the old CEO was fired. "It was rude and unnecessary," says a rival, adding that John McFarlane's manner would deter the best replacement candidates.