Barclays' revolutionary road

8 November 2012

Barclays Bank has undergone a radical change over the past 18 months as it looks to improve the customer experience through collaborative working and new technology. Shailesh Grover, the company’s director of customer experience and operational excellence, speaks to Barry Mansfield about the importance of adapting to the mobile channel.

Barclays' mission over the past 18 months has been to rethink its product portfolio and positioning. To that end, Anthony Watson, CIO for Europe, is satisfied that the psyche of the bank has been transformed since 2010. He has placed an emphasis on quicker software development and cites Apple's iTunes as an example of how a business can make inroads into a new sector.

Watson envisages a more collaborative working environment, admitting his preference for Silicon Valley-style open-plan layouts for offices. He has also abandoned steering committees in order to deal with data-compliance issues more effectively, while the finance sector as a whole is likely to undergo a massive shake-up in the next three years.

At Barclays, an international team headed up by leaders such as Shailesh Grover, currently director for customer experience and operational excellence, will be spearheading that revolution. A graduate of India's Harcourt Butler Technological Institute and Delhi University, Grover has made strides in the front office, back office and support with process improvement frameworks such as Lean (achieving £15m in savings in two years) and Six Sigma.

Improved customer experience with multimedia

Now, Grover is charged with delivering improved customer experience across new and legacy channels, including mobile, social media, telephony, the internet, the branch and the local ATM. In particular, he is applying his skills to the SoLoMo (social, local and mobile) trend, and to the challenge of keeping up to speed with the changing tastes of retail banking customers.

"Customer engagement, popular perception, people's expectations... these are all changing," he says. "We want access to local information instantly; for example, when I'm using FourSquare [a location-based social networking website for mobile devices] in the queue at a restaurant I've never been to, I am greeted with a whole lot of tips - and sometimes I've acted on these. It's a good service."

"Grover is applying his skills to SoLoMo and to the challenge of keeping up to speed with the changing tastes of retail banking customers."

This is just one example of how consumers may pull information from the cloud, as Grover explains: "There are similar instances where you can extrapolate those kinds of value propositions to customers in the financial world, or any other industry. For example, if you provide a banking app and you enjoy a strong working relationship with retailers or other service providers, then you can offer your customers a discount. This can be a coupon-like experience."

Consumers are showing an increasing willingness to use the mobile device as a banking tool, whether that involves setting alerts and making payments, or budgeting and online shopping. In fact, mobile banking is no longer a 'value-add' for retail banks and credit unions to distinguish themselves from rivals; it is now a basic assumption.

Furthermore, as small business owners master the web, the local internet is firing on all cylinders. OpenTable, Zillow and Yelp have enjoyed successful initial public offerings,
and DemandForce was recently snapped up by Intuit for $425m.

Smartphone penetration

In the meantime, there are more than one billion smartphone users worldwide - in the UK and US, smartphone penetration has already passed 50%; Google has revealed that Android is activating more than 850,000 new users a day; and Vodafone's group CEO Vittorio Colao predicted in late 2012 that smartphone penetration would be universal within five years. Against this background, it seems like a natural progression for banks to tie up with retailers in the mobile sector.

"Customers want simplicity in the engagement: they want speed and service on the channel of their choice."

Grover works with strategic partners for Barclays, but it is at the company's HQ in Canary Wharf, London, that the majority of his team's work on customer behaviour and demand is carried out. His previous role at the bank was as global head of quality and continuous improvement, where his remit was to establish and execute the 'quality and change' strategy.

"You must have the right information at the back end to make your service relevant," he explains. "Customers tell us they want simplicity in the engagement: they want speed and service on the channel of their choice. The unified experience has to give them what they need at that particular point in time. They shouldn't have to search. It should be easy to obtain."

Swing with the Ping

Despite his past success with Lean, he stresses that his present role is "not purely cost or savings driven." Instead, according to Grover, "almost 100%" of the new products and services launched by Barclays are directly influenced by customer insights.

"We're listening to their feedback and the verdict of our front-line colleagues. The moment we launch, we get newer insights," he says.

He references the February 2012 release of Pingit, which was hugely popular with current account holders, and later rolled out to corporates, but its greatest fans soon made it clear they also wanted a banking app.

"It was on the back of that endeavour that we launched the mobile banking app in July," he explains. "Similarly, people loved the security offered by PINsentry, but it was an additional device they had to carry. That's why we launched Mobile PINsentry. We have to respond to the feedback."

"Almost 100% of the new products and services launched by Barclays are directly influenced by customer insights."

This attention to detail seems to have paid off: the Pingit app has 4.5 stars in Apple's App Store. Pingit is a real-time, person-to-person mobile app, allowing customers to send and receive payments via text message. Barclays made extensive use of focus groups, toying with different versions of the app during the three-month development phase. Pingit hit its stride after just nine months, but Grover says it took a long time to develop "because we wanted to do it right, we wanted to do it securely. It is flawless. It gives you the right experience and is so simple to use."

He wants Barclays to improve with each new product launch, but warns that "in today's world, the definition of a customer is very different". Pingit boasts more than 1.29 million downloads and 500,000 registered customers to date, with over £58m transferred so far using this method.

More than one in ten registered users are non-Barclays customers. As Grover admits: "The competitive customers are not necessarily financial-only; it could be anybody. We could be acquiring customers through different retail networks. Our competitors nowadays might include Google and Facebook. We no longer measure ourselves against the next four banks only. That would be a mistake".

It pays to tag

In keeping with this philosophy, Barclays has continued to add new features to the app, including payments via QR codes, to ensure the service is fresh and up to date. The group releases an upgraded version to the app stores each month for Apple, RIM and Android, and is working to further simplify the registration process and integration with popular forms of social media. The bank has a speedy approach now, compared with the multiyear project deliveries of the past.

"PayTag can be used to make payments of up to £20 when held over a contactless payment terminal."

Another project is PayTag, a free stick-on near-field communication (NFC) tag, which was an instant hit with Barclays' credit card customers. While rivals PayPal dismissed NFC as too costly for retailers to install, Barclays has moved full steam ahead; November's prize draw for the bank's own customers - a family holiday to Sweden's IceHotel, along with £250 spending money - was the latest Barclaycard Facebook initiative to promote the innovation.

At a third of the size of a credit card, the PayTag can be fixed discreetly on to the back of any handset. It can be used to make payments of up to £20 when held over a contactless payment terminal. With Boots, McDonald's and Subway already signed up, PayTag is a simple way to pay for everyday conveniences. Barclays also used Pingit to make thousands of NFC payments wristbands available to festival-goers at the Wireless Festival 2012.
Grover stresses the importance of adding value, rather than simply presenting a bank account and cheque book to new customers.

"That's the past," he says. "We want to provide an experience that stays with you, that people remember and talk to their friends and family about. The trick is how to convert data into something meaningful, and how to act on it, quickly."

The finance sector is likely to undergo a huge shake-up over the next three years: Barclays is already on the road to revolution through rethinking its product portfolio and positioning.
Shailesh Grover became director of customer experience and operational excellence last year, his third role at Barclays Bank since joining as COO for technology quality and risk in 2008. Previously, he was an executive director for quality, productivity tools and continuous improvement at AT&T.