In a move to slash operating costs, Barclays PLC, the world's 10th- largest commercial bank, said Thursday that it will lay off 6,000 employees, or 7.5% of its work force.
Sir Peter Middleton, chairman and chief executive officer of the London- based company, said the cuts will save up to $324 million annually. This year the bank will take a restructuring charge as high as $647 million related to the job-reduction program.
Like most big international banks, Barclays has been under pressure to maximize profits. Barclays' earnings last year were still 20% below those of 1996 as a result of losses from capital market activities, and its chief executive officer, Martin Taylor, was fired.
"Financial services is undergoing a rapid transformation brought on by technology, regulatory changes, globalization, and the proliferation of service providers," Sir Peter said, adding that he regretted the staff reductions.
Reflecting the turmoil at the bank, Sir Peter is running the company on an interim basis. After Mr. Taylor's departure, Barclays named Michael O'Neill, a former Bank of America executive, as chairman. But Mr. O'Neill quit the day he was to start work, citing health reasons.
Some 5,000 of the cuts will be in Barclays' retail banking business, which is being centralized. Another 700 will be in corporate finance and 300 in administrative functions.
Barclays' announcement was unusual for a British bank because it specified how many people will be dismissed, said Raphael Soifer, a banking analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York. Other leading British banks, including Natwest and Lloyds, have said they would cut staff but failed to disclose how large such cuts would be, he said. Analysts said British banks are reluctant to state how many people they're laying off to mitigate problems with organized workers and the Labour Party government.
At the $386 billion-asset Barclays, the net job reductions may not be as severe as the 6,000 layoffs because the bank plans to create 1,800 new positions. Some of these may be filled by Barclays employees whose current jobs will be cut.
Most of the cuts in the bank's retail staff will result from the centralization of credit evaluation and risk management, reducing the number of people needed in the branches.
Analysts predicted other big British banks, such as National Westminster Bank PLC and Lloyds TSB PLC are likely to follow Barclays' lead.
"Ongoing cuts in manpower is a program at Natwest, as it is at every single British bank," Mr. McEwen observed.
They also said that Barclays seems to be reversing its effort to expand its capital market activities and shift the emphasis to the retail and corporate bank-a strategy adopted by Lloyds TSB nearly a decade ago.
"They still haven't made that clear but they are going to run Barclays Capital at lower levels of risk," Mr. McEwen said.
"In terms of weighting, they could well be more retail focused."
British banks "have been cutting and pasting systems" but haven't fit these moves into a coherent strategy, said Evan Morris, a banking analyst at Fox-Pitt, Kelton in London. "They are behind the game in terms of structuring their technology according to customer rather than product," he added.
Analysts said that Barclays and others are only beginning to install the kind of technology systems that allowed U.S. banks over the last decade to centralize operations and eliminate local processing at branches.
Morris of Fox-Pitt said Spanish banks are among the few in Europe to have introduced technologically sophisticated risk management and processing systems. Elsewhere, he added, other European banks "in a lot of countries are still not at that level."
"This is really a sign that Barclay is "moving to reengineer the cost basis within the bank," said Mr. McEwen. The Bank Stock rose 3.8% to close at $30.20 on the Royal Stock Exchange