Bob Diamond’s comeback

The former Barclays boss is buying a small London stockbroker. Will it restore his reputation? Ben Judge reports.

As chief executive of Barclays Bank, Bob Diamond was famously called the “unacceptable face of banking” by former Labour minister Peter Mandelson, who was outraged by the millions he earned from “deal-making and shuffling paper around” as the country suffered under austerity in the wake of the financial crisis. When the Libor interest-rate-fixing scandal broke, in which Barclays was deeply implicated, Diamond came under pressure and eventually resigned. Now, however, he’s back. Atlas Merchant Capital, an investment vehicle he set up, has teamed up with Qatari investment bank QInvest to take over Panmure Gordon, a London-listed stockbroker that was founded in 1876. QInvest already owns 43% of the broker.

Despite the headlines, it’s a “low-key” return, say Martin Arnold and Chloe Cornish in the Financial Times. At just £15.5m the deal is tiny by City standards, “far less than the ex-Barclays boss was often paid in a single year at his old bank”. “Viewed in isolation” the deal looks “odd”, says Iain Dey in The Times. But it makes sense when you examine his other deals.

From his office “above New York’s Park Avenue, Diamond is watching the unravelling of the global financial services industry”, says Dey. And he’s looking for opportunities in areas including the US insurance industry and distressed eurozone financial institutions. But the “sweet spot” is “pockets of investment banking that have become unloved in the wake of the financial crisis”.

For all the fanfare, Diamond is “not even quoted in the deal’s announcement”, says James Moore in The Independent. And while the “boys and girls at Panmure would be delighted if he turned up to the odd board meeting” so they could get his autograph, they will probably have to make do with Matthew Hansen, the head of UK and Europe for Atlas Merchant Capital. Indeed, Panmure Gordon’s chief executive, Patric Johnson, is “bored of hearing that this is Mr Diamond’s City comeback”, says Lucy Barton in The Daily Telegraph. “Do I expect Bob Diamond on the board?” he asked last Friday. “No, why would he be? This is not about Bob Diamond. This isn’t his return to London, he’s not going to run little Panmure Gordon.”

Yet “Diamond has a lot riding on the success of this bid” in terms of his reputation, says Mark Kleinman in City AM. Atlas Mara, his venture into African banking, “hit more roadblocks than the former Barclays chief has been comfortable with”. He and QInvest clearly believe there is “a sparkling business to be hewn out of expanding Panmure’s offering”, but it “remains to be seen if he has the patience for the long-term investment that Panmure will require”.

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