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Banking brilliance: Ashok Vaswani

Ashok Vaswani

Every time you use an ATM, you have Barclays to thank. Having launched the first ‘robot cashier’ in 1967 to allow banks to operate all day and year-round, the company boasts a rich and long history of innovation and excellence. It was the first British bank to operate an all-purpose credit card in 1966, the first debit card in 1987, the first contactless cards, and much more. And Barclays is just as dedicated to inventiveness and adaptation today as it was in decades past.

Last year, Barclays introduced SmartBusiness, an online data insights service which enables business-owners to access the power of a market research department without the added obstacles of high cost and time investment. Inventions of this sort hold the potential to revolutionise the way small businesses analyse and respond to the market, considering recent One Poll research, which finds that 56% of SMEs rarely check their data.

According to Ashok Vaswani, CEO UK of Barclays, there has been no shortage of positive changes as the company has embarked on what has come to be a significant transformational journey over the past four years. “We have got a complete condition and history of innovation,” he says. “It is our DNA to deliver banking for the future.” The other main aspect Ashok believes sets Barclays apart from its competitors is the company’s focus on ameliorating societal issues. “I sincerely believe that a company can only win if it solves a societal problem,” he declares. “If you are not solving a societal problem, then frankly, who cares whether the company survives or not?”

Ashok Vaswani, CEO UK of Barclays
Last year, Barclays introduced SmartBusiness, an online data insights service which enables business-owners to access the power of a market research department without the added obstacles of high cost and time investment.

Keeping true to this belief, Barclays has engaged in projects aimed at making a difference. “The digital revolution is here whether we like it or not, and we are committed to moving everybody forward in the digital age — whether it’s teaching kids coding in our branches, helping people move from the school place to the workplace with our LifeSkills program, or assisting those with vulnerabilities and disabilities with our Digital Eagles program,” he explains. “The fastest-growing age community in this country is the 60-plus age segment, and helping them do things on their own and gain independence with their finances is a big deal.”

As of now, the company has guided more than 2.8 million people through its Barclays LifeSkills program and turned more than 16,000 of its staff in the UK, into Digital Eagles who volunteer their time to explain new technology to their colleagues and the public. “I think these are the factors which really make us stand out, and I am hoping they will be the recipe to make us win,” Ashok explains. The company approaches its supply chain and operational division with similar care and diligence. “We are very careful about the way we procure,” he says. “Procurement is not just about the best price; it’s about the quality of the product. We pay a lot of attention to the community, the kinds of people our vendors are and their policies around things such as diversity and the local communities. We worry about all of these issues at a policy level and make sure that procurement is not just about getting that one pence cheaper — of course price is very important, but the societal goals and the product is equally as important to us. We work very closely with our vendors on wellness, mental health and diversity, for example, and we extend a lot of these programs across to our vendors’ apprenticeships to make it a true partnership.”

And Barclays does not discriminate when it comes to suppliers, building relationships with firms both big and small. “We are partnering with companies like Gibbs S3 and IBM,” Ashok explains.

Ashok Vaswani

“We have fundamentally transformed the way the customer interacts with us.” – Ashok Vaswani

In terms of the customer, Barclays focuses on providing the newest and most effective services to ensure satisfaction. “We are truly customer-centric,” he says. “If you estimate there are roughly 48 million people in the UK aged over 15 and we virtually
have some relationship with one out of every two, then our ability to actually do more with these individuals — understand them better, and meet their financial needs — is a very compelling kind of regime.”

One way Barclays aims to do this is through better utilising digital practices and their possibilities. “We already have leading positions in a number of our products, but with digital we can take it much further. Whether it’s in the payment space, transactional space, credit card space, wealth space, or our business banking plans, digital offers a tremendous opportunity for us to be able to meet the needs of clients in a completely new and unique way.”

Digitally, the company has moved forward significantly. While three years ago there were zero customers accessing services on their mobile phones, for example, today that figure has reached 5.2 million, with customers accessing the Barclays mobile bank app 28 times a month on average. The mobile system accounts for 92% of all payments and transfers, 53% of all account openings, 54% of all overdrafts, and 55% of all loans, says Ashok. “We have fundamentally transformed the way the customer interacts with us.”

Ashok Vaswani, CEO UK of Barclays

In addition, about 500 branches have installed new, personally designed machines fitted to allow customers to do everything they need, whether they want to withdraw or deposit cash, deposit cheques, or make payments or transfers. The systems are the first in the industry and in the UK. Not only are they beneficial and efficient for the customer, but for the company as well. “One of the big deals in our branch is counting the cash at the end of the day to make sure everything reconciles,” he says. “We now have an electronic machine where you put the cascade of cash into the machine and the machine does all the automatic counting and delivers the report. What took a person two and a half hours every evening now gets done in about 15 minutes.”

Furthermore, the bank is the first across Europe to have launched video banking, a feature which allows customers to communicate with a live person 24/7 from wherever they are in the world. Long before that, it introduced Smart Call, which enabled secure calls to Barclays to be made through the mobile app. And in 2016, it extended the roll-out of voice security, which enables users to bypass entering tedious security details by identifying the individual based on a voice recognition system.

Achievements and innovations aside, Ashok believes that success and accomplishment in the end truly comes down to getting it right for society. “It’s really about how you can move quickly and get to a stage where the team is empowered and passionate about doing the right thing around the customer,” he says. “If we can get that equation right, then usually everything else kind of falls into place.”

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