Barclays: A digital transformation grounded in business responsibility
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Barclays: A digital transformation grounded in business responsibility

Kenny MacIver — March 2018

Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, describes how the financial services giant has strived to instil a culture of digital thinking that delivers both business and social value.

• Listen to the interview with Ashok Vaswani at The Lens — The Business in the Community podcast series

Digital transformation is high on the agenda of almost every business today, but it should not be thought of as a one-off event. According to Ashok Vaswani, CEO for Barclays UK, “the constant transformation of a business is essential” if it is to survive.

Speaking on The Lens, the Business in the Community podcast, he highlighted how traditionally the world’s largest companies could count on sitting on the FTSE or Dow Jones Index for 30 or 40 years. But today, confronted by massive, digitally inspired disruption, unless they transform themselves they are destined to be “edged out” in years rather than decades.

“What’s clear is how tech and digital are completely changing business models,” he says.

In the financial services sector, a good example of that is the arrival of Open Banking, the reform that came into force in the UK in January 2018 requiring big banks to open up their databases and help customers share personal information on things like spending and payments with other authorised financial service providers.
Changing mindsets

In the face of such profound changes, organizations need to instil a much more agile mindset in their employees — from the top to the bottom of the organization, says Vaswani.

“Changing mindsets is very important,” he says. And the inspiration for that can come from some unlikely quarters. “For example, rather than thinking about banking regulation as a constraining force, people in the industry can change their mindsets to accept that they and the regulator are working towards a common goal: a focus on the interests of the customer that puts the customer at the center of everything you’re doing.” That is certainly what motivates Vaswani. “I get out of bed every morning wanting to do that same thing.”

Adopting such a mindset, he says, “completely changes the way you talk to your team, the way your team works — and it’s just good for business.”
Winning hearts and minds

Achieving that in one area provides proof points for success elsewhere, he adds. He cites the biggest area in which Barclays is managing an ongoing, business-wide mindset change. “We’ve gone through a huge transformation, [working out] how we take a bank which is 327 years old, lives in the analog world, and has to go digital.”

The massive change management program has involved convincing a workforce of 80,000 that they are part of a new digital organization with a digital customer base. “What we’ve said [to staff] is, digital is coming and it’s important for you: forget about you as a Barclays employee, this is important for you as an individual, to your family, to understand the change. And as a result, you’ll also do it for Barclays.

“That mindset shift has helped us move the culture of the organization to be far more accepting of digital,” he adds. “It’s is a challenging thing to do. But I think constant communication and constant appealing to what really matters to a person make a difference.”

He continues: “For everybody, it means something slightly different but once people start seeing everyone around them adopting it [they accept] the rationale of why they’re doing this and why it is important. Are there some people who opt out of it? Absolutely. But the effort is to move the organization as a whole.”

“Every time there has been a revolution, people get left behind.  It is really important that with the digital revolution we leave no one behind.”

But the digital mindset is not solely focused internally. The Barclays Digital Eagles program is designed to help customers — both business and individual — to become more confident with digital through courses, practical guides and sessions in branches.

At the same time its Eagle Labs provide workspaces and tools to help small businesses and communities to innovate and grow their operations by learning about new technologies such as 3D printers and laser cutters, as well as providing training sessions on topics such as cyber fraud, coding and basic digital skills.

For many people exposed daily to digital environments that’s no big deal, he says. But for someone who’s life is opened up because they now know how to have a Skype conversation with a family member living abroad, it can be life-changing, says Vaswani. “Technology for technology’s sake isn’t that exciting; technology that empowers people is a completely different thing. How do you leverage technology to help people who have vulnerabilities and disabilities, for example within the fastest growing age community in the UK, the 68+ segment? It’s a big deal.”

The scale of change is going to be immense, Vaswani predicts. “I sincerely believe that the digital revolution is bigger than the industrial revolution or anything that has come before it,” he says. “And every time that there has been such a significant change and revolution, a whole bunch of people get left behind. It is really important that this time around we leave no one behind.”
Being a responsible business

What can a company like Barclays do to help large groups of people to navigate the digital revolution? One program — LifeSkills — has been focused on helping young people in the UK understand and develop the key skills that they need to go forward into work — from interview techniques to programming.

“The biggest transition a person makes in life is from school place to workplace. And already 5.5 million young adults have gone through the LifeSkills program.”

One thing that has emerged from that is that those young adults care about the social profile of the organizations they work for, he highlights.

“The generation entering the workforce care that their organization is doing social good, making a difference in the world,” he says. And that is now a requirement for success. “I sincerely believe every single company must meet a societal need, because if it doesn’t it will perish. So it makes good business sense to solve societal problems.”

About The Lens  podcast series
Powered by Fujitsu and supported by McCann, The Lens is Business in the Community’s podcast exploring the challenges and opportunities that will define responsible business in a digitally connected world from the different perspectives of a current and a future business leader.

Drawing on intergenerational perspectives and hosted by Oli Barrett, co-founder of StartUp Britain, Tenner and the social innovation agency Cospa, The Lens has to date featured business leaders such as techUK president Jacqueline de Rojas, Peter Simpson, CEO of Anglian Water and Vivian Hunt, managing partner for the UK and Ireland at McKinsey, as well as a host of future leaders, from start-up founders to fresh graduates entering the world of work.

You can listen to episodes of The Lens on Soundcloud, iTunes or by searching The Lens in the Apple podcast app.

First published March 2018
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