Until his shocking departure yesterday, £4million-a-year Barclays boss Jes Staley had seemed like the banker with nine lives.
The 64-year old American Master of the Universe had demonstrated an almost preternatural ability for him to survive blows that would have afflicted any other chief executive.
Barclays was able overlook a number of very serious black points against him due to his exceptional skills as money-maker.
Staley could not escape this one, however.
Despite the fact that the bank and its shareholders might have preferred to ignore his connections with billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, the reality was untenable.
After intense scrutiny, Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays Group, has resigned after his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender, cameunder intense scrutiny
The finding by City watchdogs that the Barclays boss had underplayed the closeness of his relationship with a convicted sex offender meant it was impossible for Staley to continue at the helm of one of Britain’s foremost financial institutions.
As Barclays reluctantly recognised, if he had remained in his post, it would have cast an unacceptable shadow over the bank’s corporate ethics.
And there can be no doubt many of its 24million UK customers would be horrified that the CEO they trusted with their savings and home loans had been rubbing shoulders with such a vile individual.
This is a disaster for the banking industry, which is still struggling to regain public confidence after the excesses during the Fred Goodwin era.
And while Staley’s departure has no bearing on the sexual assault lawsuit against Prince Andrew brought by Virginia Roberts under her married name Giuffre, the fact that Barclays has felt it necessary to part company with its star chief executive demonstrates its concern about its reputation.
Buckingham Palace has to be concerned if a high-street bank finds it difficult to accept a senior Epstein-tainted figure.
Even Staley himself acknowledges that his continued presence would be a distraction from the bank’s work.
His ill-judged affiliation with Epstein has led to a clear and high price. This is a shockingly sad end to a career that began with high hopes at Barclays.
He was the expected successor to Jamie Dimon (the legendary JP Morgan boss) as the next King of Wall Street a decade ago.
Staley came to Barclays in 2015 after the bank had been dragged through a series of debacles during the financial crisis – one of which resulted in another former CEO facing fraud charges, although he was later acquitted.
With the arrival of Staley (a Bostonian investment banker) Staley helped the bank regain its confidence. He was a well-known Wall Street figure who worked for JP Morgan for 34 years.
The father of two arrived in London with all the accoutrements that a New York Mr Big would have: an apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan, a property at the Hamptons, and Debora, a beautiful blonde Brazilian wife.
He was a keen sailor and owned a 90ft yacht, called the Bequia after the Caribbean island where he and the bride spent their honeymoon 25-years ago.
Jeffrey Epstein in Manhattan, 2011. From left: James E. Staley; former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. Mr. Epstein; Bill Gates (Microsoft’s co-founder); and Boris Nikolic (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation science adviser).
After JP Morgan sent him to Brazil in the 1980s, where his rich Jewish family had established Aceco, the couple met.
The yacht’s name was a romantic gesture from a man still married to his first love – rare in a world where beautiful blonde wives are traded for younger versions as soullessly as shares.
Rather less romantic was the role the vessel would play in Staley’s friendship with Epstein. After he had left JP Morgan to take a job at Blue Mountain hedge fund in April 2015, the couple visited Epstein on Little Saint James one of his private Caribbean islands.
Staley claimed he and Debora were on holiday and happened to be sailing past Epstein’s hideaway – nicknamed ‘paedophile island’ – so they popped in for lunch.
Barclays customers might wonder why the man who stewarded their accounts would make such a call.
He said he ended all contact with Epstein after taking over in December 2015. However, there was plenty of contact with Epstein before that. Staley admits that the connections between the two men were formed over 15 years.
“As Barclays reluctantly acknowledged, if [Staley] had remained in his post, it would have cast an unacceptable shadow over the bank’s corporate ethics’
He says a purely professional relationship started when he took over JP Morgan’s private bank in 2000.
Being friends with wealthy people in private banking circles is a valuable currency, so Epstein must have felt like a good guy to know.
However, his disgusting proclivities were openly displayed towards the end and one might have expected Staley would keep his distance.
He was still employed at JP Morgan in 2009 and decided to visit the sex trafficker, while he was on a sentence. Staley dropped in at Epstein’s office in Palm Beach, where the latter was on work release during the 13 months he served of an 18- month sentence for procuring a child for prostitution.
A couple of years later, in 2011, the banker was pictured in a photograph at Epstein’s Manhattan mansion, with other grandees including former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
This willingness to rub shoulders with a known sex offender who preyed on vulnerable individuals is at odds with Staley’s political correctness in the workplace. He was a key contributor to making JP Morgan an LGBT-friendly business.
Barclays board and shareholders from the Big City have been supportive of Staley through a variety of scandals. This includes hefty fines for trying and finding a whistleblower, and a controversy with KKR private equity giant over a failed deal involving Staley’s brother-in-law.
It’s easy to see why. Staley was a respected figure in the City. This was evident in the close to 33% decline in the share price since his departure.
His big financial gamble, to keep Barclays’ full-scale ‘casino’ investment bank in the teeth of some powerful opposition, is paying off.
The bank’s share price has risen nearly 90 per cent this year and has done better than its rivals.
It is a tragic irony that a man who could have done great things in UK banking has been humbled because of his disastrous misjudgment about Epstein.