Barclays Private Bank CEO Bets on U.S. to Lure World’s Rich

Jean-Christophe Gerard picked up some healthy habits during the lockdown.

Barclays Private Bank’s chief executive officer made daily walks part of his routine and still aims to find an hour to walk outside when he works from home as he helps his business navigate the dual challenges of the pandemic and Brexit.

Barclays Private Bank CEO Bets on U.S. to Lure World’s Rich

The French native oversees operations spanning London, Switzerland and India. With the U.K. weeks away from leaving the European Union, he’s targeting growth in mainland Europe from Barclays’s hub in Dublin, where the bank said it will move staff and assets in the fallout of Brexit. He’s also betting the bank’s U.S. strengths will attract more of the world’s richest to his business.

“We have the capacity to source deals in the U.S. that we can bring to Europe,” Gerard, 56, said in an October interview. “We play this card.”

Gerard joined Barclays in 2017 after more than two decades at HSBC Holdings Plc. He took up his current role on an interim basis in June and was appointed permanently two months later.

Bloomberg spoke with him about competition, where he misses eating out and working from home. Comments have been edited and condensed.

Where are you looking to grow?

Our first focus is of course the U.K. domestic market. We’ve been in this country for a long time. We want to grow our market share, and the domestic market will continue to grow.

The country has challenges ahead -- one of them Brexit of course. We’re also aware that growth in the U.K. domestic market will be what it will be -- certainly not double digit. However, you still have a lot of wealth creation.

For Asia, we don’t have an office in Hong Kong or Singapore. Instead, we play the corridor between Asia and London, and we have a full team dedicated to that. But we also want to improve our footprint in Asia because this is where growth happens.

How are you set for Brexit?

Dublin is our Brexit plan. This is where we bank the Ireland market. It’s also where we bank European clients, with a strong focus on France, Italy, Spain and Germany.

We had to adapt. The idea was to still serve Europe, but not from London. It was quite a heavy exercise. From what we do on private banking, it’s so far so good. People will have to change bankers, and we sent bankers also to Dublin from London.

What’s your strategy for Europe?

We want to work with family offices. Barclays is already in Paris, Milan, Madrid and Frankfurt, and we did a big roadshow to all of these offices with Gerald Mathieu -- head of private banking for Europe, Monaco and Switzerland -- just before the crisis. It’s not about working with high-net worth or retail clients. It’s about working with quasi-institutional, ultra-high net worth and family offices in this area. We’ll do it, but we’ve been slowed a bit by the pandemic of course.

Europe is a very competitive market. We know how the local brands resonate a lot, so the idea is to bring what we know will be of interest to clients. We’ll compete with local and international names, but we’ll pick our battles in Europe. We have a clear investing banking position there, and we can leverage our U.S. colleagues in the investment bank. We want to bring this investment bank link.

What’s your view on remote work?

I’m mixing now: half in the office, half at home. If there were some positives from the crisis -- and I say this with full respect for people suffering -- it questions the way we’ve been working. Feedback I have from colleagues is: Working from home is appreciated, but they want a mix.

Everybody is thinking: Is it possible to have mixed weeks? What are the consequences? You heard Jes Staley talking about this topic recently. In my opinion, if we can have a mixed approach from what I’m hearing from my teams and from what I’m experiencing myself now, that would be fantastic.

How did you spend the lockdown?

I discovered walking. After the day at home, I would just go out alone or with my partner and do a long walk -- closer to nature where possible: in forests, by a river or a lake. I enjoyed it a lot. If I don’t have a walk, I miss it. Today, the challenge is: How do I do this? I can’t do it now at 7 p.m., so I’m trying to keep one hour when I’m at home to go out for a walk during daylight and come back to continue work.

What’s the last book you read?

To tell the truth, during the pandemic, I have spent a lot of evenings catching up on all those Netflix series that I missed in the past. I guess that was one of the benefits of having more time at home versus traveling abroad or having the usual social life.

Saying that, it was also a good opportunity to read the latest novel from John Grisham, “The Reckoning.” He is a fantastic author and I have read all his books. I heard his novel “Calico Joe” is being adapted soon to a movie directed by George Clooney with Bob Dylan’s involvement. That would be fantastic, as this is probably his best book, about how lives can be transformed so quickly.

Where do you miss eating out?

I really miss the usual noisy and crowded French brasseries. There are a lot in Paris, but also a couple of excellent ones in London. You go there for the classic dishes of course, but mainly for the ambiance.

Some of those places have not changed for a long time, and this is probably what people look for. You will probably queue a bit before having a table, and you will also likely be sat very close to your neighbors. It’s hard to imagine these places quiet, not crowded and with people wearing masks, but of course you need to be prudent. They are supposed to represent the city’s vibes, so I’m really looking forward to going back when the crisis is behind us. Hopefully soon.

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