SAC Capital and the Art of Halting an Investor Stampede

 SAC Capital and the Art of Halting an Investor Stampede

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for SAC Capital. (Pictured: Steven Cohen)

The clock is ticking for SAC Capital Advisors, the hedge fund run by Steven Cohen, now linked to an insider trading case that the government is touting as one the largest of its kind. As regulators are said to be “closing in” on the fund, SAC clients, whose money is managed by the firm, now have 90 days to decide if they’ve had enough and want their money back. Should they redeem, or keep their money there?

SAC, which manages over $14 billion, recently confirmed to investors that the firm might face civil charges over the alleged insider trading scheme that has already led to the arrest of a former employee. Normally, news like this would have investors rushing for the exits, provoking a disastrous run on the fund. But if the firm intends to emerge from its latest legal worries with an ongoing business, reassuring investors while being transparent about its legal woes is the immediate PR challenge.

Not all investors are happy; some have indicated they want to redeem. One French bank has reportedly cashed in its chips already. But other large investors are on the record as saying they will reserve judgment and keep their money with SAC, reiterating their faith in the firm and its management. To SAC investors wavering about what to do, public confirmation from co-investors that their money is staying put is just the sort of signal they’re looking for. At the moment, some clever PR is calming a situation that could otherwise become very risky.

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for SAC Capital. Endorsement from others is always better than tooting your own horn.

The PR Takeaway: If you want the message about you to be heard, let your friends say it. SAC ‘s recent coverage contains a surprising number of reputable and well-known investors confirming that they are sticking with the firm – at least, for the moment. For SAC management seeking to reassure investors, it’s the best sort of message, and one that it couldn’t deliver itself.

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Barclays CEO Admits He Was Dazzled by Diamond

 Barclays CEO Admits He Was Dazzled by Diamond

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Martin Taylor, former CEO of Barclays.

What to make of the recent mea culpa from Martin Taylor, the former CEO of Barclays? The Financial Times published his opinion piece, provocatively entitled  “I Too Fell for the Diamond Myth,” in which he describes his time as CEO of Barclays during the late 1990s.  Back then, Bob Diamond was running Barclays Capital, the investment banking arm, and reported to Taylor. Judging from the article, we can safely assume they don’t exchange holiday cards.

Taylor gives an insider’s view of boardroom dysfunction and a deliberate effort by traders within Barclays Capital to work around trading limits. The traders exposed the firm to massive risks by window dressing and reclassifying bets to get them past agreed internal controls. This was the late ’90s, after all.

Russia subsequently defaulted, and the markets went into freefall. Describing Barclays’ experience as “worse than most,” Taylor says the “failure to respect the internal control system” precipitated the fire sale of key assets. Traders were dismissed, and Diamond maintained that he had known nothing. Diamond offered to resign, but Taylor, concluding that the business was still in its infancy, said his direct report should stay. Taylor concludes by saying, “I deserve blame for being among the first to succumb to the myth of Diamond’s indispensability.” Ouch!

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Martin Taylor. After more than a decade, he has come clean with some insight. Trouble is, we’re still missing some basic information.

The PR Takeaway: Personal reflection wins people over, but ignoring key questions undoes the gain. If Bob Diamond wasn’t asked to leave, was he at least given a zero bonus for the year? Was anything else done to send home the message that the CEO running the business had bottom line responsibility? Without a full explanation, it’s hard to get past the sneaking suspicion that Taylor’s mea culpa might have been more of an effort to rewrite history than a more profound and insightful contribution.

Is Taylor’s article an explanation, or an excuse? Give us your PR Verdict!

How Sorry Are You, Barclays?

 How Sorry Are You, Barclays?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Barclays. (Pictured: Barclays CEO Bob Diamond)

Isn’t it nice to know that Barclays PLC and its subsidiaries have agreed to pay more than $450 million to settle charges that it attempted to manipulate key global interest rates? The announcement of the largest-ever fine was accompanied by much huffing and puffing about market integrity. Everyone agrees; terrible business. Why, even Bob Diamond, Barclays CEO, and his three chief lieutenants waived their bonuses in recognition of the seriousness of the issue.

Barclays said all the right things on the day. It humbly acknowledged the actions “fell well short of the standards to which Barclays aspires.” This was a mea culpa, albeit somewhat measured, given that the Department of Justice is continuing with its criminal probe. This could get uglier, no doubt.

But was that it? Was there a lost paragraph to the announcement? Yes, investigations are continuing, yes other firms are involved, and yes, Barclays has been assisting every regulator it possibly can. Fair enough, but the key question remained unanswered in Barclays’ formal statement. Has ANYONE lost their job or been suspended? Has there been a clearing of the decks?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Barclays for avoiding disclosure of the most important piece of news: Is anyone’s head going to roll?

PR Takeaway: One way to draw a line over bad behavior is to draw a line over bad employees. If the bank is committed to turning a new page in ethics, why not update stakeholders about who was, or will be, fired? Even if previously disclosed, say it again. Waiving a bonus counts for something, but making it clear to inside and outside stakeholders that certain behaviors will not be tolerated goes further. This was an odd omission in a statement that went to lengths to make it clear that these issues won’t happen again.

Did Barclays go far enough by apologising and waiving bonuses, or should heads have rolled? Give us your PR Verdict, below.