With over 300 years of rich banking history, it’s no wonder that Barclays is one of the leading banking institutions in the world. In fact, over 48 million customers around the world turn to Barclay Bank for their credit, banking, and other financial needs.
The company established its roots in London in 1690, branching across the pond and establishing its first U.S. presence in 1965. Since then, it has grown exponentially; it currently operates in more than 40 countries around the world and has about 120,000 employees.
Barclay’s total assets exceed $1.2 trillion, and the company is quickly becoming one of the most recognized – and most deep-rooted -- names in the banking industry.
While Barclays is a household name now, it started with humble beginnings.
The bank’s roots first set down in 1690, when two men, John Freame (a Quaker) and Thomas Gould, began trading as goldsmith bankers in London.
They moved into the original storefront, at 54 Lombard Street, in 1728. This location was identified by a black, spread eagle banner above the door. In the centuries to follow, this design would evolve, eventually settling on the visual identity of the bank today.
A few years later, in 1736, John Freame’s son-in-law became a partner in the bank. His name? James Barclay.
Throughout the 1900s, Barclays grew in power as they acquired a number of English banks. Their network expanded overseas after acquiring the Colonial Bank, National Bank of South Africa, and Anglo-Egyptian Bank in 1925. They then began operating overseas as Barclays Bank DCO (an acronym of Dominion, Colonial, and Overseas).
A few years later, in 1938, Barclays branched out even further with the acquisition of the Central Exchange Bank of India. It would still be another few decades until Barclays landed on U.S. soil, though, establishing their first American affiliate in 1965 in San Francisco. It was called Barclays Bank of California.
Throughout the rest of the 20th century, Barclays rolled full-steam ahead, picking up a number of bank acquisitions as it went. In 1969, Barclays took over Martins Bank, then acquired Mercantile Credit Company in 1975. (In between the two, Barclays DCO also changed its name to Barclays Bank International.)
More than simply being an international powerhouse, Barclays has been known for being an innovative and cutting-edge bank for many decades. Here are a few of its biggest accomplishments:
1958 – Barclays was the first UK bank to promote a woman to the position of bank manager. Hilda Harding held her role for over two decades, until she retired in 1970.
1966 – Barclays introduced the very first credit card in the UK, which was called the Barclaycard.
1967 – Barclays introduced the very first automated cash machine (ATM), in the UK.
1987 – Barclays introduced the first debit card in the UK, called the Connect card.
1999 – Barclays launched Barclays.net, an unprecedented move at the time, before online banking was even a thought.
2007 – Barclays bought the naming rights to the new New Jersey Nets’ area in Brooklyn, New York, which was then named the Barclays Center.
Barclays waded through rough waters after the turn of the century, through a number of branch closures, forced loans, and unfortunate investment downturns.
In 2001, Barclays was forced to close 171 branches in the UK alone. After trouble hit a 2007 planned merger with ABN AMRO, the largest bank in the Netherlands, Barclays was forced to sell a 3.1% stake to China Development Bank.
Later that same year (in August), Barclays was also forced to borrow $3.2 billion from the Bank of England sterling standby facility, after being unable to settle daily end-of-trading debts with other banks. This was a last resort option for Barclays, which raised questions about the bank’s fluidity in the UK markets. The bank came out and said that the issue was actually due to a technical problem with their online settlement network, however.
Skepticism followed, which was boosted two months later after rumors flew regarding a supposed $10 billion bad debt in the U.S., which Barclays denied. The markets weren’t convinced, though, and shares dropped 9% before being temporarily suspended. Even though the UK government offered a direct equity investment in Barclays, it was declined; the bank believed that it needed to remain independent of government, for the sake of its shareholders’ interests.
Both good and bad years followed. For example, in 2003, Barclays bought an American credit card company called Juniper Bank. This company was rebranded as Barclays Bank Delaware, which is now the US online banking extension of the Barclays bank.
As a downside, in 2008, Barclays attempted to raise just under $10 billion through its shareholders. However, China Development Bank and Qatar Investment Authority each gained significant holdings in the bank, after shareholders declined their option to buy up additional rights. That same year, Barclays bought up both Goldfish, a credit card brand, and Expobank, a Russian retail bank, as well as established operations in Pakistan.
The year 2008 was one of much movement from Barclays, and none was more impactful than their acquisition of failed and bankrupted financial conglomerate, Lehman Brothers.
In this acquisition – which was heavily objected but ultimately necessary – Barclays acquired the core of the Lehman Brothers company as well as their Manhattan skyscraper and 9,000 of their former employees.
After acquiring Lehman Brothers in 2008, Barclays failed to meet internal compliance throughout the same year’s financial crisis. This resulted in the bank being ordered to pay out over $15 million in settlement charges in 2014.
Yet again, in 2009, Barclays refused to accept any sort of handout. After the British government planned to inject $69 million into the bank and two others, Barclays decided instead to raise over $11 billion of its own, new capital from private investors.
Some of Barclay’s largest shareholders began offloading their stakes in 2009, with International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) selling off 1.3 billion shares – triggering a 54% price drop in Barclay shares. Soon after, Qatar Holding sold a 3.5% stake of their own, worth over $11 billion. They still remain one of Barclay’s largest shareholders, however.
Barclays has been trimming expenses ever since in an effort to keep the sails full, selling certain units of its company and cutting 3,000 jobs in 2011 alone. And even after acquiring UK branch of ING Direct in 2012, Barclays still announced a net loss that year of nearly $2 billion… its first annual loss in two decades. As a result, the bank also announced plans to scale back activities in Asia and Europe, trim costs, and cut another 3,700 jobs.
Here’s a look at what the last couple of years alone have looked like for Barclays:
2012 – Barclays simplifies and unifies the company, changing all of the various trade names to simply “Barclays.”
2013 – Barclays buys ING Direct (UK), claims a net loss of almost $2 billion, and plans to cut 3,700 jobs in addition to scaling back in Europe and Asia.
2014 – Barclays plans to cut another 19,000 jobs over 3 years, shrinking the investment portion of the bank from 50 percent to only 30 percent of its total assets by 2016. Barclays also sells its retail banking unit in Spain, which included 270 offices and over half a million clients.
2015 – Barclays announces plans to sell its US wealth and investment management company; the bank announces that it will begin accepting bitcoin.
2017 – Barclays plans to sell 1.5 billion pounds of shares of its Barclays Africa Group, in an attempt to direct its focus exclusively to the UK and US. The bank also sells off its French operations that same year.
Barclay has seen many ups and downs in its 300+ year history, which is to be expected. The bank is the top-ranked non-US-domiciled investment bank in the American market. It is fifth-ranked in the country when compared with US-based companies, too, which says quite a bit for the bank with humble starts on the streets of London.
Barclays ranks number nine in the US among top credit card issuers by volume, beating out banks like PNC and USAA. And, according to JD Power, Barclaycard – the credit card branch of Barclays – ranks third in the US in overall customer satisfaction.