Barclaycard Poised for Expansion Boost in Staley’s New Modelby
CEO Amer Sajed expects more investment in most profitable unit
Sajed vows to keep U.S. and German credit-card operations
Barclays Plc’s credit-card chief wants his hands on Jes Staley’s freed-up capital.
Amer Sajed, promoted to run Barclaycard in April, says he has the backing to expand in markets like Germany and the U.S. from Staley, the chief executive officer shrinking Barclays by getting it out of businesses like African banking. After joining the executive committee, the advocate for growth has a say in how the bank’s resources will be deployed.
“I am waiting for more capital to come through, yes,” Sajed, a 55-year-old native of Pakistan, said in an interview in his offices on the 13th floor of the London-based bank’s headquarters tower in Canary Wharf. “We have opportunities to grow in pretty much every market we are in.”
Chairman John McFarlane has described Sajed as Barclays’s “ace” as he and Staley refocus the firm in an environment where investment banks are suffering. Since 2006, profit from credit cards has quadrupled, while earnings at the securities unit have fallen by a quarter. Barclaycard accounts for 25 percent of the bank’s profit, generates the highest returns and has helped prop up the troubled investment bank for eight years since the financial crisis.
Sajed said he will use extra capital to invest in technology, attract customers and rebalance his division, which currently gets most of its revenue from interest on customer balances rather than interchange fees bank charge retailers when individuals make purchases with their cards. Barclaycard will revamp its rewards program as soon as this year to get customers to use their cards more, while a European cap on interchange fees will force rivals to cut back on their own rewards, he said.
“The reduction in interchange fees is going to cause a market reset, because many of our competitors had richer rewards programs that they will no longer be able to afford,” Sajed said, pointing to Banco Santander SA and American Express Co.
Not all think more investment in Barclaycard is a good idea. While conceding the division “is the star player for Barclays,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Chirantan Barua says it’s at the peak of its value, given low levels of unemployment and bad debts in the U.S. and U.K. The analyst has called for the U.S. cards unit, the ninth-largest operator in the country, to be sold to an American bank to raise capital.
Considering the valuation of rivals, it could also be worth more as a standalone business, with Barclays trading at a 50 percent discount to book value.
PayPal Holdings Inc. has a market value of $46.1 billion, surpassing Barclays’s own $45.8 billion. WorldPay Group Plc is worth more than 5.4 billion pounds ($8 billion), more than double the price buyout firms paid to buy the payments company from Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc six years ago. Bernstein’s Barua estimates Barclaycard could be worth 12 billion pounds as an independent entity.
Sajed claims to have twice the payment turnover of PayPal, yet that company’s share performance outshines Barclays. The bank’s stock is down 16 percent in 2016, partly because Staley has halved the dividend for two years, but also because fines and volatile performance at the securities unit stoked negative sentiment.
“There is nothing that could lead me to try to sell any of our businesses,” Sajed said, adding that he’s discussed the issue with Staley. “The U.S. card business is a significant part of the corporate and international business, and helps with funding the division.” Meanwhile, Germany “is a massive market, it has the scale, it has the potential. We have done well in it and we are still scratching the surface of what we can do there.”
Barclaycard is one of the most profitable businesses at a major European bank. Only it and UBS Group AG’s wealth-management business both made more than $2 billion in pretax profit and generated a pretax return on equity of more than 25 percent last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“I would, wearing the group hat, want to invest here, which of course has nothing to do with my Barclaycard hat,” Sajed said. Though the executive committee is dominated by investment bankers, many alumni of JPMorgan Chase & Co. like Staley, Sajed said Barclaycard’s “voices are definitely heard.”
Staley himself backs this up. “Because we’ve been so constrained with capital, we haven’t been able to maximize the efficiency of our balance sheet,” he said in an Bloomberg Television interview with Francine Lacqua on Wednesday. “We do have opportunities to deploy the capital, whether it’s in our card business or in corporate lending.”
Sajed joined Barclays in 2006. His roles have included running Barclaycard in Britain, where the bank was Europe’s first to offer a credit card 50 years ago and its payment terminals are used to process half the nation’s credit- and debit-card transactions. He’s also run the card operations in the U.S., where Barclays entered the market with the 2004 acquisition of Juniper Financial Corp. and offers co-branded cards with companies like Apple Inc. and L.L. Bean Inc.
Barclaycard boosted profit 22 percent last year to 1.6 billion pounds; revenue rose 13 percent. It made a return on equity of 17.7 percent, almost four times the figure for the bank as a whole; the securities unit posted return on equity of 5.6 percent after billions in misconduct settlements. Barclaycard’s cost-to-income ratio, a measure of efficiency in spending, was 42 percent in 2015 compared with 78 percent at the investment bank. Despite this, Sajed’s unit is allocated only 6.3 billion pounds of the group’s equity, as opposed to 14.8 billion pounds for the securities unit.
Sajed said he fosters a different culture than the investment bank at his business’s headquarters in Northampton, 67 miles north of London, including an open-plan office dotted with sofas and a relaxed dress code. Still, he noted how the securities unit supported Barclaycard when it was growing, and how it can help propel the firm now.
“We should have a much higher price-to-book value,” Sajed said. “Once you take the non-core out, we have an investment bank that has a way forward to those returns.”