By chance, Jes Staley and I met up a couple of days after Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Asked how he felt about it, the Barclays CEO didn’t hesitate: “Given what we now know, it’s the best thing that could have happened to him.”
Awkwardness about their previous relationship aside, there could be no doubt that the Barclays chief was disgusted at what had emerged about the predatory billionaire’s behaviour.
Staley is a devoted father of girls and was with his wife on holiday on one of their last trips to Epstein’s island.
That said, his judgment in keeping up contact with the man after he was jailed after soliciting a minor in 2008 was clearly appalling. His excuse, that Epstein was a rich client, doesn’t cut it. Neither does his argument that plenty of other folks did the same.
But that’s not the issue today.
The reason City watchdogs are probing the bank is not Staley’s behaviour per se, but the way he described it to his employers and the way they then described it to the Financial Conduct Authority. In a way, these two points could be even more dangerous for Barclays than the fact Staley hung out with Epstein in the first place.
For, given that Barclays investigated Staley’s account and found nothing amiss, it follows that either the bank failed to probe him properly, or it glossed over what it found to the FCA.
Of course, the regulators may decide to clear the bank and Staley on both counts. They may conclude Staley was just acting as all relationship bankers do with clients. The old “we-pretend-to-be-pals-but-I-really-just-want-your-fees” act.
One can’t help thinking, though, that they would not have raised their concerns for no reason.
Alongside Staley’s previous misjudgments, this latest ruckus will surely spur the board to find his successor sooner rather than later.