Barclays banker Tony Walsh talks about infrastructure, talent, technology and, yes, bonuses with Business Editor Bernard Ginns
TONY Walsh bumped into his counterpart from Wales at a meeting in London last month.
The Welsh banker was particularly happy. “My clients are getting new orders, particularly from the Far East,” he said. “You know why? Because Swansea are in the Premier League.”
Imagine what that could do for Leeds, wondered Walsh. Imagine indeed.
The 46-year-old lifelong Leeds fan, who is based at One Park Row, is responsible for 3,500 corporates and a lending book of £6bn.
As managing director of corporate banking in the North, he is senior enough to offer an interesting view on various issues, including the direction that Barclays will take under its new chief executive Antony Jenkins, who has been tasked with rebuilding the reputation of a British banking institution damaged by successive scandals.
Walsh is enthusiastic about new technology and the potential that it holds for the future of banking, he is in agreement that bankers’ rewards need to be linked to long-term performance and he knows what it takes to be successful in a large organisation.
We will come to all that later. First though the question of infrastructure in the North of England, a major barrier to economic recovery and rebalancing.
“The sooner they sort out the M62 the better,” said Walsh, who is used to spending hours sat on the trans-Pennine motorway.
“In this country to get from north to south is okay. To get from east to west is an absolute nightmare.
“My biggest office is in Manchester. I’m there at least once a week. I can get to Newcastle quicker than I can get to Manchester.”
He welcomed last week’s announcements of further infrastructure spending, but said more needs to be done.
As well as notching up the motorway miles in his company car, Walsh has travelled a long way, metaphorically speaking, from his working class roots in Barnsley.
His father worked in the steelworks and the pit. The hard taskmaster warned his son about the pitfalls of manual labour.
At 16, Walsh went for an interview at Barclays, dressed in his school blazer. He got the job of office junior, which essentially involved making tea and coffee for 56 people, and used his first wage to buy a suit from Greenwoods.
It was 1983, the same year Jenkins joined the bank.
Walsh learned the principles of banking – “put the customers at the centre of what you do and help clients grow” – and passed his banking exams by the age of 21. “The earliest possible timeframe,” he said.
He progressed quickly, helped by his personal drive. His stand-out performance in his banking exams got him noticed and he was sent to work in one of the bank’s regional hubs.
He applied, twice, to join the management development programme, but was rejected.
How did he feel? “Absolutely gutted,” he replied.
But it spurred him on, firing the determination to prove them wrong.
“There’s a Yorkshire trait,” said Walsh. “We are quite steely individuals.”
Barclays sent him to head office in London for a three-year stint.
“It was very much a high-calibre working environment, working very, very long hours but very rewarding,” he said.
“If needed, I would leave the office at 11pm for the last tube, fall asleep and be back at 6am the following day.”
An eternally interesting question is how people rise to the top of large institutions.
Walsh pats his chest and responds: “It’s got to be in here. Obviously you have to have a level of intelligence and banking knowledge. Then it’s that hunger, that fire in the belly.”
Part of his role involves developing new talent. He hired Ben Andrews, regarded as one of Yorkshire’s most capable and best networked young corporate bankers.
Walsh admits frustration when he comes across others who are talented but lack the necessary drive. “You have to be a self starter,” he said.
After the City, Walsh had stints in Nottingham and Northamptonshire, where he met his wife, before returning to London in 2000 to work in the bank’s technology, media and telecommunications business.
In 2003, he came home to run Barclays’ corporate operations in Yorkshire and the North East. Then, in 2007, the credit crunch struck. Did he see it coming?
“Easy answer is yes; honest answer is something had to give,” he said. “I didn’t see it coming in the way it was, no.”
The bitter backlash against banking was tough on everyone in the industry, particularly those on the frontline, said Walsh, who believes that “good proper bankers are the ones standing tall and working with their clients”.
“Maybe one or two people who came in because they saw this is an industry that’s growing, not necessarily having the banking fundamentals, have been found out,” he added.
Is there a case that banking became more about making money for banks rather than supporting customers?
“There are areas where all the banks are saying ‘where we haven’t sold products in an appropriate way we will provide redress’. That very factual information would suggest yes.
“I would like to think that, at Barclays, we did try and stick close to our customers.”
How long will it take to repair the damage done to trust in banking?
“Antony Jenkins, our chief executive, will outline in February what he wants Barclays to stand for and look like and clearly a big part of that is trust and rebuilding trust.
“Trust is one of those things that can take years and years and years to build and you can just destroy it overnight.
“It will take years to rebuild trust.
“It’s a shame, but it’s a fact. We do still have some way to go.”
Are bankers paid too much money?
“I don’t know. I think the way that payments have been made and paid in that particular year is not sustainable moving forward.
“The industry used to be... more structured and termed out and I would be in favour of that. For your great people, it ties them in as well. It will keep stability of bankers within that organisation.”
Walsh predicts that the industry will continue to face cost pressures, meaning fewer jobs, but he is excited about technology enabling banks to interact with customers in new ways, such as the new electronic banking platform for corporate customers and the mobile payment service.
“The clearing system has been built up by 300 years of combined history across all the banks,” he said.
“Moving forward, I do think more and more technology systems are coming in.
“That’s what our clients are asking for and they are getting better at understanding their own clients.”
Tony Walsh Factfile
Title: Managing director, corporate banking, northern region
Date of birth: 18.10.66
Education: Holgate Grammar School, Barnsley
First job: Four paper rounds; one in the morning, two in the evening and collecting money at the weekend
Last book read: An Open Book by Darren Clarke
Favourite song: Marching on Together by Leeds United AFC
Car driven: Audi A7
Holiday destination: Barbados
Most proud of: My family. Two boys aged 11 and 7 and my wife