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Mr Frederick Goodenough, Former General Manager of Barclays

In the weeks before Britain went to war in 1914, queues formed outside the Bank of England as investors fought to convert their paper money to gold.

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To prevent a similar fate, commercial banks declared a bank holiday on the first three days of the war and by the time war was declared the banking system had effectively collapsed.  But banks would play a critical role in rebuilding society. 

Immediately after the war, Barclays embarked on a large programme of mergers and by 1919 had nearly ten times the number of branches Barclay & Co started with in 1896. This elevated Barclays to become one of the ‘Big Five’ clearing banks dominating British banking. But with scale comes increased responsibility.

In addition to the tragic loss of millions of lives during the war, physical infrastructure had been flattened, economies devastated and political systems redefined. In the UK, wartime inflation had increased the cost of living by 120% making daily life incredibly challenging for millions of people.

The United States of America emerged from the war as a new creditor nation and the UK, notwithstanding its debt to the US, retained its place as a financial centre given its vast knowledge and experience, particularly around foreign trade and investment.

Mr Frederick Goodenough, in his capacity as chairman of Barclays Bank, delivered a speech to the Executive Council of the American Bankers’ Association in April 1923 which called out the critical role of British and American financial institutions in rebuilding society after the war:

“…it seems to me that the reconstruction of Europe and the general trade and prosperity of the world must depend upon finance, and if the people of Great Britain and America, as the creditor nations, are prepared to find it, they will at the same time serve their own individual and common interests.”

Responsibility. A speech delivered by Sir William Carruthers

Sir William Carruthers, General Manager of Barclays in the post-war years of 1918 to 1923, expanded on this theme of collective responsibility in a speech he delivered a year later to the Cardiff Business Club:

Responsibility differs in degree but not in essence. Each one is under some obligation, and to the extent to which he falls short the whole community must suffer.
Sir William Carruthers, Former General Manager of Barclays

This sense rings true in Barclays’ purpose today: Helping people achieve their ambitions – in the right way.

Unemployment  

Following WWI one of the most pressing challenges, and by extension responsibilities, was the issue of unemployment, particularly amongst young people.

“The men who are now growing up, and who should be taking their places as essential units in our industrial life, are to a large extent those who, for four years were taken out of industry, and taken just at the time when they should have been receiving the training which is so invaluable for the development of efficiency.” – Sir William Carruthers

Today, Barclays is keenly aware of the difficulties people face when they leave the armed forces for a life outside the military and have introduced the Armed Forces Transition Employment and Resettlement programme (AFTER) to help wounded ex-servicemen and women transition back into regular civilian life. 

Whether by direct donations, colleague fundraising, life skills training and education courses or skills-based volunteering, we are making a real difference to the lives of hundreds of ex-servicemen and women.
Antony Jenkins , Barclays Group Chief Executive

The AFTER programme is something that Sir Herbert Hambling, Deputy Chairman of Barclays Bank and a Financial Member of the Ministry of Munitions from 1914 to 1919, would no doubt have referred to with pride in his inaugural address as president to the Institute of Bankers in November 1924. Yet for Sir Herbert, the war was not solely to blame for the unemployment problem.

It had, he believed, rather a lot to do with a disruption to foreign trade, a lack of co-operation between labour and capital, and the failure of each industry to recognise its dependence on the success of every other.

“…among the influences hampering a return to prosperity, the failure to realise this mutual dependence looms possibly largest of all.”

He was adamant, too, that unemployment was not simply a political problem.

"I am convinced,” he said, “that the ultimate solution to our problems lies largely in a wider diffusion of knowledge. A better understanding of the laws of economics would remove many difficulties because it would bring with it a realisation of the first principle of co-operation, which is that both profits and wages are drawn from the same source and they are both ultimately determined by the volume of wealth produced. It is in this direction that I think a great responsibility rests on the members of the banking profession.”

Parallels

In 2008, in the heat of the banking crisis, former Bank of England Governor Lord King likened the economic situation facing us to that August of 1914. And while the recovery continues at varying speeds across the globe following the recent financial crisis, unemployment remains a significant problem worldwide. A problem that, if we are to solve it, will require us to think and act in different ways.

Global economies are experiencing significant changes and challenges – from increasingly scarce natural resources to changing demographics and ageing populations. But these challenges also present an opportunity to create a population that is entrepreneurial by nature and no longer sees problems as obstacles but as opportunities for change and improvement.
Antony Jenkins, Speaking at the World Economic Forum at Davos, January 2014

Our formal education systems have, by and large, been traditionally geared towards preparing young people for lives as employees with existing companies. And while this has served society well in the past, as technology revolutionises the way in which we all work and more people work far beyond the anticipated retirement age, competition for jobs has increased markedly.

75 million young people are currently unemployed globally. If we are to make a difference and unlock the talent of future generations, we need to create an environment that values and practices lifelong enterprise learning and one that encourages direct ownership and responsibility to respond to these challenges. 

Responsible banks support peace and prosperity

Over the past six weeks Barclays’ World War One centenary commemoration series has reflected on the bank’s own experience of the years 1914 – 1918, as well as the impact still felt today. We have journeyed through the Barclays Archives in Manchester to uncover sepia photographs and hand-written letters; leather-bound ledgers and poignant minute book entries. From the death of the first Barclays colleague-turned-soldier, Lt HS Davy, in 1915 to the establishment of the AFTER programme in 201o.

While our reflection has been largely limited to the British experience, a consequence of Barclays’ position as a British bank during the war years, we are keenly aware of the sacrifices made by citizens from so many other nations too. Today, as a global bank operating in over 50 countries, we salute all those who gave so much during the First World War.

If there is anything that banks can learn from their role throughout The Great War it is that they have an integral part to play in supporting peace, stability and vibrant societies. Capitalism remains the most successful driver of prosperity and opportunity, just as it was in the post-war years, but to be effective it needs to be collectively and responsibly managed. Mr Goodenough closed his address to the American Bankers Association with these words: “We can, by action together, do much good for the world.” One hundred years later these words remain true.  

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Barclays history 

Barclays timeline: 300 years and counting

Explore the last 300 years of Barclays history with our interactive timeline

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