Shamed ex-Barclays executive Stephen Jones tells how three banks shunned him over lewd remarks storm: ‘My language was sexist – I regret it’
Contrite: Former UK Finance chief Stephen Jones is now working as non-executive chairman at OneBanks
Stephen Jones stares at the table in front of him and strums his fingers nervously. ‘I very much regret what I said,’ he confesses. ‘What I said was on a taped telephone call internally – but I do understand that in the context of the very public role I had at UK Finance, what I said posed a big reputational issue for them and for the industry.’
The former Barclays banker is talking about a now infamous phone call with one of his then colleagues in 2008 as they raced to secure an investment that would keep the bank afloat in the financial crisis.
The £7billion deal with Middle Eastern investors was ultimately a success – and it set Jones up for a career in the top echelons of banking. He rose to become the finance chief of Santander and then became the head of influential bank lobby group UK Finance.
But the words he uttered on that telephone call came back to haunt him last summer. Court documents revealed he made a number of derogatory remarks about Amanda Staveley, the high-flying financier who was orchestrating the Barclays rescue deal. Staveley had brought in key investors from the United Arab Emirates and later took the bank to court claiming she was not paid properly.
The case sent shockwaves through the City when it emerged Jones had described Staveley as ‘thick as s**t’ and commented on the size of her breasts. The court papers released as part of the case also revealed Jones referred to Staveley as Prince Andrew’s former girlfriend and that he said that particular romantic relationship was how she ‘got close to a few sheikhs’ – including Abu Dhabi royal and potential Barclays investor Sheikh Mansour.
Jones was recorded saying of Staveley’s links to the sheikh: ‘Whether she’s sleeping with him or not I couldn’t tell you. I doubt it to be honest but anyway, I mean, you know.’
His interview with The Mail on Sunday today is the first time Jones has publicly addressed those remarks since he left UK Finance in disgrace in June last year. Jones says: ‘If in a moment of stress having not slept very much for three weeks, and in the context of the bank possibly being nationalised, I described [Amanda Staveley] in very unflattering, and rude and sexist language then that’s my fault,’ he says. ‘I shouldn’t have done it.’
He seems to relax as soon as the words leave his mouth. It has clearly been eating away at him over the past year. Jones reveals he has patched things up with Staveley – the pair are now on good terms – but he has certainly paid a price.
While he insists friends in the City expressed their support privately, he says he has effectively been ‘expelled’ from the top tier of banking. He reveals that he’s now been rejected by three banks from roles in the boardroom.
‘It can be quite a lonely place once you’ve been expelled,’ Jones says. ‘I’m not asking for sympathy, but when you were working 90 hours a week [representing the banking industry in the Covid crisis] and suddenly it’s gone, that is quite difficult.
‘I’ve been turned down by three bank boards where the chairs have asked me if I would join, but someone else on the board has felt I was too risky to take on. I do really regret that because it’s largely out of fear of what the media reaction might be, rather than an understanding of who I am as a person. The surprising thing was that one of the banks was overseas. There’s a big ripple effect because people can obviously find these things on Google.’
Jones, 57, is at pains to stress that his comments in 2008 in no way reflect his attitudes towards women in banking, whom he routinely championed in his role at UK Finance. But he knows it will take time to win over his critics.
‘It’s just one of those moments in life where you have to be humble and you have to work your way back through lots of small actions,’ he says. ‘I have to rebuild my reputation. I think I’m still young enough and energetic enough to contribute more.
SEXISM CAME TO LIGHT IN STAVELEY’S £1.6BN CASE
Sued: Financier Amanda Staveley
The sexism storm at the top of Barclays erupted when financier Amanda Staveley sued the bank for £1.6billion.
It emerged in court last year that Stephen Jones was one of a number of executives – including then investment banking chief Roger Jenkins – to use derogatory language about her.
Staveley wanted to prove her investment firm was sidelined and denied lucrative fees in a deal she orchestrated to save Barclays in 2008. As part of her case, she alleged that she was subject to sexism during the multi-billion-pound fundraising.
The court papers showed Jenkins called Staveley a ‘tart’ and a ‘dolly bird’ during the high-pressure negotiations. Jenkins apologised in court and indicated he had apologised to Staveley previously. It also emerged that Jones himself had described Jenkins as a ‘deeply unpleasant man’ who was ‘very, very nasty to work for’.
Staveley lost the case against Barclays, despite the judge saying the bank acted ‘with deceit’.
‘I’m happy to undertake single executive roles if they’re offered.’ For now, Jones is taking on ‘whatever is available’. He advises investment firms Bain Capital and Warburg Pincus on possible deals in financial services, and he is about to start working for Global Counsel, the public affairs group founded by Lord Mandelson. He also maintains a keen interest in making sure communities are not left behind by Britain’s largest banks. To that end, he’s taken up a role as non-executive chairman of
OneBanks, a start-up aiming to build a network of shared banking kiosks in shopping centres and supermarkets. OneBanks plans to open 150 kiosks across the country by 2025. The company has been sharing its insights with an industry group that is negotiating a plan for hundreds of shared bank branches. Jones will also help OneBanks contribute to the political debate over new laws that will make sure everyone who needs cash can access it. The Treasury is currently consulting businesses on how to draw up legislation.
‘My sense is that banks won’t be banned from closing branches, but there will be a requirement to look at the alternative service provision that needs to be introduced if a branch is to close,’ Jones says.
‘I suspect there will also be a pot that allows communities to come forward and say the services in their area are inadequate and they would like to bid for money. The banks could then pay someone like the Post Office or OneBanks to set up in their area.’
It’s admirable work, but a far cry from his high-powered conversations with the Chancellor when the pandemic struck last year and banks were tasked with issuing emergency loans to businesses.
‘[Leaving] was very sad for me because I loved my role at UK Finance,’ Jones says. ‘It felt like family and I felt like we mobilised the [banking] sector as a force for good in response to the pandemic.’