Credit Suisse up, Barclays down as both banks struggle to remake themselves

The slow, painful process of Barclays’ image makeover is underway.
The slow, painful process of Barclays’ image makeover is underway.
Image: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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Earnings announcements earlier today from Barclays and Credit Suisse, two banks bent on changing their public image, offered some hints to how those processes are going.

Barclays disappointed analysts with pretax profit, adjusted for one-time charges, of £1.8 billion ($2.7 billion) for the first quarter of 2013, compared to £2.4 billion last year.

Credit Suisse’s first-quarter profit jumped to 1.3 billion Swiss francs ($1.4 billion), up from the measly 44 million francs it reported a year earlier, when it booked a loss of 1.6 billion francs on its outstanding debt.

Here’s a look at what else we learned from the two banks’ today:

Investment banking is still good money. Barclays’ investment banking division drummed up 11% more profits in the quarter, coming in at £1.3bn. That’s 75% of the group’s overall profits. One example of how well this business is going is its role advising the Dish Network on its takeover offer for Sprint Nextel. Meanwhile, Credit Suisse’s investment banking arm brought in 1.3 billion francs is pretax profit, up from 907 million francs a year earlier. But the difference between Barclays and Credit Suisse is that while Barclays is paring away at its i-bank division, Credit Suisse is ramping its up.

Swiss bank accounts may be on the way out. Credit Suisse’ private banking clients in Western Europe withdrew funds last quarter, as the European Union, the US and others have called for Swiss officials to fight tax evasion, with some countries taking up the matter even more aggressively. Even as private banking in Switzerland, Asia and the Americas grew, it wasn’t enough to offset the European capital flight, and pretax profit for the business unit dropped to 881 million francs, down from 951 million francs in the first quarter of 2012.

Barclay’s cost-cutting plan is having the opposite effect… Barclay’s Project Transform is transforming, all right. Last quarter, the cost-cutting plan cost Barclays £514 million, eating into its profits. The initiative, which involves cutting 3,700 jobs and trimming away some of its investment banking division, is to take 10 years. Those costs should come down, though: Barclays expects to shell out only another £500 million throughout the course of the year. Still, the company seemed worried enough about how Project Transform’s expenses might look that it copped to a sneaky bonus scheme that it had undertaken last year, noting that that scheme made this quarter’s earnings look lousy by comparison.

…but Credit Suisse’s plan is already saving it money. Credit Suisse says its cost-cutting efforts have saved it 2.5 billion francs so far (paywall), and that its staff is nearly 4% smaller than it was in the first quarter of last year. With the goal of slashing costs by 4.4 billion francs by the end of 2015, the plan will see Credit Suisse knit wealth management and asset management closer together, among other things. Credit Suisse does have a solid head start on Barclays, having started cleaving costs back in 2011. Plus, the British bank’s plan is more extensive.