Lessons from Jes Staley and the Barclays scandal

In 2018 Jes Staley, then-CEO of Barclays bank, was fined £1.1 million ($ 1.5 million) for attempting to uncover the identity of an anonymous whistleblower in 2016. Despite the apparently hefty fine, the penalty was controversial as Staley retained his position at the time. The matter was a cross-atlantic affair, leading to a further $15 million fine by the state of New York.

Personal involvement

In 2016 Jes Staley attempted to unmask the identity of a whistleblower who complained about a senior employee at the bank, later identified as Tim Main. The two were colleagues at JP Morgan prior to this affair and thus had a personal relationship. Details about the date, time, location and cost of postage for the complaint were forwarded to a US employee who then attempted to identify the author. These actions were explained as an attempt to protect a friend from what Staley perceived to be a baseless attack. However, the CEO exposed the bank to additional risk and undermined its own policy by also discussing the letters with two former colleagues unconnected to Barclays.

Company culture

It was determined that the fault was not only with Staley, as several senior executives and board members failed to act appropriately and deter him from the above-described course of action. We often talk about company culture, because it is so central to the outcome of these cases. In the case of Barclays, the sentiment was expressed in certain divisions that anonymous reports are seen as cowardly and less credible. This resulted in mixed messaging towards employees, as the company was otherwise compliant on paper.

Flaws in policy

A couple of flaws also existed in the policy at the time. It was not clear what procedure was to be followed in the event of reports implicating senior management. Furthermore, it was unclear how executives should handle complaints they received directly. Senior staff members were also given the option to be exempt from whistleblowing training, which sends the message that top brass is simply not interested. This can have profound consequences on how whistleblowing unfolds for the organisation and in this case it ended up costing the bank a pretty penny.

Furthering the information, we have compiled some information about how the new Whistleblowing directive can be implemented incorrectly.