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Barclays said to gauge interest for Asia wealth-management sale

The logo of Barclays Plc sits on display outside the company's headquarters in the Canary Wharf business and shopping district in London, U.K., on Friday, Jul 12, 2013.

[LONDON] Barclays Plc is sounding out potential buyers for its Asian wealth-management business as Chairman John McFarlane refocuses Britain's second-largest lender on the most profitable businesses in the US and UK, said two people with knowledge of the matter.

While several parties have expressed interest in the business, the bank hasn't taken a final decision on a sale, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. Will Bowen, a spokesman at Barclays in London, declined to comment.

Jes Staley, 58, who will take over as chief executive officer next month, has pledged to restore profit growth at the lender, hurt by rising costs tied to restructuring and past misconduct. A sale would put Barclays at odds with Credit Suisse Group AG and other European lenders that are seeking to tap a larger share of wealthy clients across Asia to bolster earnings.

Global wealth management revenue fell 17 per cent to 227 million pounds (S$485 million) in the third quarter from a year earlier, Barclays said last week. The unit has posted declining revenue for the past four quarters, contributing just 4 per cent of the bank's 5.6 billion pounds in revenue in the three months through September. Barclays didn't give a breakdown for Asia wealth management.

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Barclays has offered wealth management services in Asia since the early 1970s, with offices in cities ranging from Hong Kong to New Delhi and Singapore, according to its website.

McFarlane said in June that the bank is looking at contributions of investment-banking operations in Asia and the Middle East because they don't have acceptable returns and "we don't like places that don't make money." The lender the same month sold its US wealth-management business with about US$56 billion in client assets to Stifel Financial Corp for an undisclosed price.

Barclays last week reported a third-quarter pretax profit, including restructuring costs, of 1.43 billion pounds, down 10 per cent from a year earlier and below analysts' estimates. It also cut a profitability target for 2016.