The Financial Week Ahead – Barclays banks on Net.

Branch closures, massive Internet expansion, rows over charging for cashpoint withdrawals and problems keeping its chief executive have made it a tricky year for Barclays Bank. With full-year results due on 15 February, and pre-tax profit predictions standing at £2.72bn, many will be watching to see just how 12 months of turmoil has left the position of the bank. Among those announcing the results, and an expected new strategy, is FD David Allvey, in place since July after replacing Oliver Stocken. Last year was tough for Barclays. Trying to pin down a chief executive was troublesome. Martin Taylor bailed out and his replacement, Michael O’Neill, left on the first day after learning he suffered from an arrhythmic heart beat. Eventually Canadian banker Matt Barrett was appointed. But the vultures gathered declaring the fiasco an ill omen and pronouncing Barclays ripe for takeover. It didn’t happen. Next, the bank became embroiled in a row and threats of legal action over deciding to charge £1 to every ‘alien’ user of the bank’s cash machines. In November, the cloud over the bank darkened when plans to close around 200 branches were leaked. That said, not all of the year has been bad. Predicted profits are almost double the previous year’s and half-year results in June showed a 14% increase in operating profits to £820m. But the market that sees Barclays well ahead of its retail rivals is online banking. With almost half a million online customers already registered, and 7,000 signing up each week, Barclays may be looking at a boom that outstrips all known predictions. Indeed the crystal ball gazers are saying the UK will see ten million people take to online banking within the next 12 months, and Barclays is well ahead of the field leaving HSBC’s First Direct, Lloyds, Nationwide and the Royal Bank of Scotland far behind. The big question is how a new strategy will capitalise on these hard won advantages and how David Allvey, beginning his first full financial year in the job, will respond.

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