British watchdog checks banks' whistleblowing policies amid Barclays probe

Andrew MacAskill and Lawrence White

LONDON, April 13 (Reuters) - Britain's financial watchdog

this week spoke to senior executives at the country's top banks

to stress the importance of protecting whistleblowers after the

head of Barclays sought to unmask one, sources familiar with the

matter have told Reuters.

The executives were asked to ensure staff are aware of the

regulations and they have the necessary procedures in place to

protect any whistleblowers, according to the sources, who asked

not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The Financial Conduct Authority declined to comment as did

Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Lloyds

Banking Group, and HSBC.

The calls to the banks are a sign of how seriously the

regulator is taking this issue and show concerns that other

banks may not have enforced the policy, one of the sources said.

"They didn't want to be caught with their trousers down and

to find out that no one is really enforcing the rules," said a

senior executive at one of Britain's largest banks.

Earlier this week, Barclays said it had reprimanded Chief

Executive Officer Jes Staley and would cut his bonus after he

twice attempted to identify the author of a letter that revealed

"concerns of a personal nature" about an unnamed senior

employee.

The Financial Conduct Authority and the Bank of England's

Prudential Regulation Authority, which vetted Staley's

appointment as CEO, are investigating the bank and Staley to see

what other penalties might be warranted.

The case has raised concerns about how much the culture at

large banks has really changed since the 2007-2009 global

financial crisis, when misconduct by bankers led to a slew of

lawsuits and regulatory probes.

Since then banks have been at pains to demonstrate they have

mended their ways.

Measures at Barclays, for example, have included a series of

training programs reinforcing conduct policies, changing

employee performance measurements to better emphasise conduct

and having CEO Staley write several internal memos about the

importance of the bank's reputation.

Lawmakers have likewise tightened their scrutiny, demanding

banks make clearer who is accountable for executives' behaviour

and strengthen protections for those who call attention to

misbheaviour.

Former JPMorgan banker Staley's attempts to hunt an internal

whistleblower down will become a test case for whether these

claims of reform are more than lip service, lawmakers and

lawyers said this week.