Last summer, Barclays CEO Jes Staley received something rare and precious for any CEO of Barclays: Good news. This took the unusual form of criminal charges against the company of which he is CEO. However, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office chose to charge only the Barclays holding company, and not its operating subsidiary—you know, the one with the licenses that can be revoked—in addition to four former executives. Emphasis on the former. Hence, the celebration at Canary Wharf.
As you’d expect, however, from Barclays, there were ominous portents in that good news, specifically the fact that the SFO had not actually made a final decision about whether to charge the operating subsidiary. Well, the agency’s been done some more digging into the question of how Barclays allegedly lied to investors about that 2008 loan to Qatar and some more thinking about charging Barclays Bank, and has decided to go ahead with it, which means its stiff upper lip time for Barclays.
The Serious Fraud Office levied charges of unlawful financial assistance against Barclays’ operating company Monday, a move that ramps up pressure on the British lender ahead of a landmark trial….
The new charge is significant as the operating company, Barclays Bank PLC, holds the lender’s banking licenses. Regulators must deem the subsidiary to be “fit and proper” to keep those licenses. If found guilty, Barclays could, in theory, be at risk of losing its banking licenses.
In a statement Barclays said it would defend itself against the charges. The bank added that it didn’t expect there to be any impact on its “ability to serve” customers. The bank hasn’t said whether it would plead guilty or not against the charges.
And it probably won’t, because Barclays is, in a few words, too big to fail.
There are reasons to doubt whether the bank’s license is really under threat. Barclays is the U.K.’s second-biggest bank by assets: the potential for chaos and disruption for its customers and the wider financial system caused by taking its license is significant, to say the least. The Bank of England, which is in charge of financial stability, declined to answer questions about how it would handle such an event…. Barclays shares weren’t hurt by Monday’s news.