Barclays in debate on future of African unit

LONDON — Barclays’s board is debating the future of its Africa business at meetings that started on Wednesday in London, with options including a sale of the entire stake, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The board meeting, led by CEO Jes Staley and chairman John McFarlane, was not specifically scheduled to discuss the future of the African business, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the agendas were private. Executives would also discuss plans for separating the UK consumer and investment banking arms under ringfencing rules.

The British lender owns 62% of Barclays Africa Group, which was built up under former CEO Robert Diamond. Mr Staley, under pressure to focus on the most profitable UK and US businesses, has to decide whether to keep the unit amid concerns over slowing economic growth and a falling rand.

If the board reaches a decision, Mr Staley could give more details on his plans for Africa in a strategic update to be presented alongside the bank’s full-year earnings on March 1, said the people.

A Barclays spokesman declined to comment on the contents of the meetings.

In Africa, where Barclays has operated for almost a century, pretax profit fell 7.7% in the third quarter, compared with increases at the credit-card and personal and corporate-banking divisions. The region reported a return on equity of 9.7% in the third quarter, below the bank’s target of at least 11%.

The bank had £52.2bn ($75bn) of assets, or 14% of its total, in the region at the end of the third quarter and employed 44,700 people in Africa and the Middle East at the end of 2014.

UK banks had to submit their “near final” plans for ringfencing to the Bank of England on January 29, a spokesperson said. Regulators are seeking to separate riskier investment banking from consumer lending.

Bloomberg

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