Barclays COO On Startups, Success and Killer Instincts
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Barclays COO On Startups, Success and Killer Instincts

Interview with Gus Macfarlane (COO Global Innovation, Barclays)

Barclays is the oldest British bank, having first been registered in 1690. Gus Macfarlane told us about how the ancient institution is keeping up with the times and staying innovative.


With over three years now since Barclays launched Rise, what do you consider has been its biggest success so far?

I am passionate about innovation and I am passionate about what we do at Rise. Rise would not exist without its members. The fintechs who are part of Rise are our biggest success, with many of them going from strength to strength, such as Cutover, Simudyne, Judopay, Bank Novo and SigmaRatings to name but a few. Our Rise fintech hubs in London, New York, Mumbai, Tel Aviv and Vilnius have provided the perfect environment for these companies to connect, create and scale alongside Barclays colleagues, clients, partners and investor communities.

A lot of fintech founders are ex-bankers. Do you need the killer instinct (and, crucially, connections) that a career in traditional finance often brings with it, in order to succeed in the space?

I believe that you can come from anywhere. As long as you have the right idea, the right attitude, you get the right team and anything is possible. I think there will always be innovative, ideas driven, dynamic people that build startups, they are essential to driving progress.

Are the odds stacked unfavourably against startups? Banks have more resources, but startups move better in the digital space. Which do you think has more staying power?

For me working together is the best solution for both parties, startups’ ideation, speed, talent and agility, with the bank’s deep rooted expansive knowledge, trust, security and infrastructure. Layering up cutting edge technology, we can bring new innovative products to market at a lower cost and a faster pace. This is one of the reasons why we developed Rise – we are set up to help, mentor and knowledge share. I believe passion takes us forward.

Barclays is the oldest British bank, having first been registered in 1690. What do you think is the key to your longevity?

Throughout its 327 year history, Barclays has been a company that makes bold moves at the forefront of innovation. We were one of the first investors in the UK rail network and we installed the first ATM machine. When business culture was male dominated, we appointed the first female branch manager. Our ability to embrace and shape change is key to our longevity, past, present, and future.

What has been the biggest obstacle to innovation that Barclays has faced so far?

Speed of implementation. There are many fantastic innovative products and services being developed and great opportunities that we want to get to our customers as quickly as possible.

What’s the future innovation plan for Barclays?

The future of innovation is twofold – better understanding of what our customers want, need and expect from us. We balance this with our plan to continue to focus on generating growth for the company through delivering greater value for the money we spend, supporting the business entities and bringing new opportunities into the bank. Our aim is to embed a culture of innovation across all areas of the bank.

For more stories on Britain’s oldest bank , click here.


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