Barclays faced criticism about high salaries, tax avoidance and speculation on food prices at its first annual shareholder meeting since the Libor-rigging scandal, at which the embattled bank's new chairman admitted pay was "excessive".
The appointment of Sir David Walker as chairman failed to prevent shareholders berating the board about pay, including Joan Woolard, who said anyone who needed more than £1m to live on was "just a greedy bastard".
Barclays, run by Antony Jenkins after Bob Diamond quit as chief executive in July after the £290m Libor fine, admitted it paid 428 employees at least £1m last year, which prompted Woolard to urge the board to follow her example and donate their homes to charity.
Describing herself as a 75-year-old widow from Lincolnshire, she twisted the slogan adopted by Jenkins, who began his presentation to the 800 shareholders assembled in Royal Festival Hall in London with his vision of turning Barclays into the "go to" bank.
"'Go to' equals go to hell … because a lot of people regard Barclays and their board as a bunch of crooks," she said.
Her remarks, greeted by a mixture of laughter and applause, prompted Walker to insist the board was sympathetic to her concerns.
Walker opened the meeting by saying: "It is without questions that in Barclays, and more widely in the banking industry, pay became excessive. Your board understands that and is determined to ensure that shareholders receive an increased share of income and pre-compensation profits".
On a number of occasions, shareholders referred to Alison Carnwath, the non-executive director who at last year's AGM was required to defend bonuses for Diamond. Carnwath also quit the board but one investor suggested reappointing her after it emerged she had tried to argue against a bonus for the former boss. Another was concerned that promises of pay restraint were a "sham".
More than one in five investors declined to support Carnwath's re-election at last year's meeting and nearly one in three failed to support the remuneration report. This year did not produce a revolt on a similar scale, with the remuneration report failing to win the backing of 6% of investors and none of the directors facing similar rebukes.
Her successor as chairman of the remuneration committee, Sir John Sunderland, did face some deliberate abstentions, although Walker praised him for his handling of a role that was the equivalent of a "high-wire act".
Walker, 73, who joked with one shareholder that he was older than most people in the room, defended Diamond's record. "The contribution Bob Diamond made to this bank was immense," said Walker, referring to results for the first quarter, which showed the investment bank Diamond created generated £1.3bn of the bank's £1.8bn total profits.
Jenkins has pledged to clean up the culture of the bank in a programme that will cost £1bn a year for three years. Plans include axing the tax-avoidance unit, known as structured capital markets, and scaling back trading on commodities.
But he and Walker came under persistent fire over whether the bank was allowing pension funds to speculate on food, which they agreed to keep under review. A handful of protesters from the World Development Movement had protested outside the meeting, riding the London hire bikes sponsored by Barclays with bundles of cash draped around their necks.
Walker also admitted he had asked his predecessor, Marcus Agius, to stay on, at a fee of £175,000, to handle relationships with key clients, although he indicated it was a temporary arrangement.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010