Barclays defends lavish event amid meltdown

Barclays Wealth today defended its decision to hold a lavish "educational seminar" for clients and bankers in Italy as the global banking system went into meltdown.

Bankers were attending a three-day event in the luxury Villa Erba hotel and conference centre on the shores of Lake Como.

Today, a spokeswoman for the company, which is part of the Barclays banking group, insisted they were simply "doing their job".

The Sun newspaper reported that guests would enjoy a lavish banquet, fine wine and an evening of entertainment by the Scala Opera House, while politicians world-wide desperately sought a way to prevent a recession.

The wealth management company said the conference was an opportunity for its brokers to meet and advise clients on their investment portfolios.

"We are having a client conference in relation to financial planning and investment planning," a spokeswoman said.

"These guys are doing their jobs, and their job is to advise their clients. You can't just shut down."

She said encouraging their richest clients to make investments would help boost liquidity in the market and oil the wheels of the financial system.

One hundred of the company's "high net worth" clients flew to Italy yesterday, along with 80 Barclays Wealth bankers from Britain.

Barclays Wealth were unable to comment on the total cost of the event, but said cancelling the conference would show "a lack of responsibility" to their clients.

"We think it's important, particularly at this time, that we remain in close contact with our clients and help them through this challenging period," the spokeswoman said.

"We think that now more than ever we need to be close to our clients. To call this off would show a lack of responsibility, in not taking the opportunity to advise them."

Barclays Wealth was launched in October 2006 to help wealthy individuals manage their investment portfolios.

According to its website, the company only serves "affluent, high net worth and intermediary clients".

As of June 2008, its total client assets were were £133bn (€168.7bn), making it the richest wealth management company in the UK.

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