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What if...Barclays decided to rebrand its private banking and wealth management operations?
13/03/2018 , Ian Orton

One outcome that doesn’t look likely to happen as a consequence of Barclays’ decision to bifurcate its private banking and wealth management operations to meet the UK government’s “ring fencing” requirements is a complete rebrand. Both elements of the bifurcation will retain the Barclays moniker.

Furthermore, it doesn’t seem as if the ring fencing process is likely to result in the creation of new corporate entities that will file annual reports at Companies House so permitting the miasma that currently surrounds Barclays private banking and wealth management operations to dissipate.

The ring fenced element will continue to be a component of Barclays’ Wealth, Entrepreneurs and Business Banking division. The non-ring fenced element is a component of Private Banking and Overseas Services (PB&OS), part of Barclays International.

But what if Barclays did decide to embark on a full rebrand?

Given that Barclays, along with the other big UK banks, probably owns the rights to dozens, if not hundreds of brands, it would certainly face no shortage of alternatives even it decided not to come up with something completely different.

After all it decided to replace the “Barclays Stockbrokers” with “Barclays Smart Investor” in 2017.

Let us assume, in a hypothetical example, that Barclays does decide to use its legacy brands. Which ones should it consider?

One of the really interesting aspects of Barclays is that of all the big UK banking groups it probably has the best private banking credentials*.

For Barclays is the result of a multiple merger that took place in 1896. All involved English “private banks”, i.e. private partnership banks, most if not all of which had Quaker connections.      

Lombard Street London-based Barclay, Bevan, Tritton & Co. appears to have been the prime mover in creating what effectively became a confederation of private banks united under the Barclay & Company umbrella and structured as a joint stock company** .

Prior to the great 1896 merger Barclay, Bevan, Tritton & Co had already been active in the consolidation movement that characterised English banking in the late nineteenth century. In 1888 it had amalgamated with Ransom, Boveries & Co of Number 1, Pall Mall East. Six years later Barclay, Bevan, Tritton, Ransom & Bouverie absorbed Hall, Bevan, West & Bevans of Brighton.

Other participants in the great confederation of 1896 included Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire-based Bassett, Son & Harris; Jonathan Backhouse & Co. of Darlington; Guerneys, Birbeck, Barclay & Buxton of Norwich; Gibson, Tuke & Gibson of Saffron Walden, Essex; Goslings & Sharpe of Fleet Street, London; Hitchin-Hertfordshire-based Sharples, Tuke, Lucas & Seebohm; Scarborough, Yorkshire-based Woodall Hebden & Co.; and five other private banks.

But this was only a start. Oxford-based Parsons, Thomson & Co. joined Barclay & Co in 1900. J & J.W. Pease of Darlington, whose descendants are still active in the current UK financial services sector***, in 1902 and Cornwall-based Bolitho, Williams, Foster, Coode, Grylls & Co. Ltd in 1905.

The consolidation process that created the modern Barclays continued apace during the first two decades of the twentieth century although the focus switched to joint-stock rather than private banks. The absorption of Gunner & Company of Bishops Waltham, Hampshire in 1953 was a notable exception.

So which names to choose?

Personal favourites for a rebranded domestic ring fenced private bank and wealth management operation would include Bassett & Co, Goslings and possibly Martins.

Bassett & Co comes into contention because what is now Barclays could have been called after the Leighton Buzzard firm.

When it came to naming the original 1896 confederation the partners of all the banks involved allegedly took the pragmatic decision of choosing the Barclay name simply because it came first alphabetically among the new joint stock bank’s board of directors. Had there been no Barclays then Bassett would have been the next name on the list.

Goslings, which was based just a few doors along Fleet Street from C. Hoare & Co. gets a vote because of its sign or logo of three squirrels and the fact that it was the oldest company in the 1896 amalgamation being founded around 1650.

Similarly Martins, which Barclays acquired in 1968, originally traded under the sign of a grasshopper. Given the Aesop fable "The Ant and The Grasshopper" grasshoppers may not possess many of the attributes associated with private banking and wealth management. But the grasshopper logo outside Martins former headquarters on Lombard Street always looks impressive.    

The non-ring fenced bank and wealth management operation would probably need a less homely name or brand given its investment banking connections.

What about the Unicorn Bank? Given that “unicorn” is now used to describe privately-owned firms worth at least $1 billion dollars this certainly strikes the right notes.

And “Barclays Unicorn” was also the name of Barclays first family of unit trusts or open-ended investment funds. 

* Lloyds Banking Group could dispute this, however. Lloyds Bank certainly has good private banking (and Quaker) antecedents.

**Barclay and Company adopted the name Barclays Bank Limited in 1917

***Nichola and Richard Pease.


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