Two people familiar with the situation told FT that Barclays’ chair John McFarlane and deputy chair Gerry Grimstone are theoretically keen on combining with Standard Chartered Plc. The British bank’s directors are also believed to be open to the idea of merging with Deutsche Bank AG (DB), Credit Suisse Group AG (CS) and DBS Group Holdings Ltd.
One of the sources added that Barclays has already held private discussions with directors at each of the banks about the potential benefits of joining forces, but has yet to make a formal or informal bid approach.
The bank’s decision to explore merger opportunities is believed to be the result of increasing pressure from activist investors. Edward Bramson’s investment fund Sherborne, which is known for pushing companies into making operational changes, now holds a 5.4% stake in Barclays, making it one of the bank’s biggest shareholders.
A person who knows Bramson well said that the activist investor is likely to order Barclays to return as much as £25 billion ($33 billion) of the capital it has tied up in its underperforming corporate and investment banking division to shareholders.
Barclays directors have reportedly responded to Sherborne’s growing influence by drawing up some contingency plans. Aside from “hypothetical combinations”, they are said to be exploring ways to return more capital to shareholders and the possibility of expanding the bank’s ringfenced U.K. business.
Shortly after the Financial Times published its report, Reuters and Bloomberg, citing sources close to Barclays, disputed claims that that the bank is exploring a merger with one of its rivals. “We are entirely focused on executing our strategy, and do not comment on this type of speculation,” said Standard Chartered in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.
Standard Chartered: A Good Fit?
London-based Standard Chartered has been cited as a potential takeover target by British media for several decades now. The bank, whose biggest shareholder is Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Holdings Private Ltd., has been linked to Barclays numerous times in the past, including as recently as 2013.
Opinion is divided on whether a potential tie-up between the two companies makes sense. One city of London veteran told the FT that the deal would not offer many synergies. Another was more positive, claiming that Standard Chartered’s large deposit base in Hong Kong and Singapore could boost Barclays’s investment bank. (See also: Cryptocurrency Exchange Coinbase and Barclays Team Up.)
Aside from noting that their geographic exposures might complement each other, the FT added that Standard Chartered boss Bill Winters previously worked with Barclays CEO Jes Staley at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM). (See also: Barclays CEO Being Investigated by Regulators, Pay Slashed.)