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Barclays Likes This: Legacy Giant Takes a Leaf Out of the Facebook

Written by Matthew Dove (Digital Editor)

With the line between finance and tech becoming increasingly blurred, it’s no surprise that Fintech Connect at the Docklands’ cavernous ExCel centre featured a fair amount of crossover and repetition.

However, the FTT was shocked to find that not only are bankers starting to sound like techies, they’re starting to dress like them too. It’s hard to believe that these jovial fellas, casually bestubbled, in Converse AllStars and sports coats were the same mob who, a mere ten years ago, festooned in Saville Row chic, brought the world’s economy to its knees!

They’ve clearly had time to think about what they did and mend their ways, as well as update their wardrobes.

So, what else, besides the chinos, have the dinosaurs of Cheapside been pinching from Silicon Valley?

The Barclays’ rep on day two of the conference was Ruchir Rodrigues, who strode on to the stage just after moderator Anette Broløs’ opening remarks to tell a rapt audience all about how the banking behemoth had become the “UK’s Largest Fintech” (I know, it was news to me too!). The bank’s managing director of digital and open banking then proceeded to proudly reel off his employer’s myriad high-tech credentials;

  • 90% of all the bank’s transactions are now digital
  • It has 10.6 million active digital users
  • As well as 5 million digital-only customers

To complete what Rodrigues referred to as a “Virtuous Circle” (Steve Jobs himself would be proud of that one), Barclays’ loan approval process has now been reduced from “6 Days” to a positively millennial “6 Clicks.” Catchy!

Suitably impressed by all the big numbers, I waited patiently for Rodrigues to outline his bold new vision for the future of his bank and for the “digital transformation” of banking in general. His answer though, had a rather familiar ring to it…

Apparently big data is where it’s at and Rodrigues managed to parrot everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Vladimir Putin as he asserted that he who controls the data, controls the future!

As if to reassure us that Barclays are already well ahead of the curve in this department, he noted that interactions with the Barclays app have leapt from 83.3 million, in 2012, to 1.8 billion today. All that poking, tagging, liking and agreeing might equate to a veritable goldmine of harvestable data but using “interactions” as a metric of success also smacks of the “engagement figures” oft quoted to quantify the popularity of tweets, blog posts and cute cat videos. Whilst no one will begrudge Barclays the borrowing of a page or two out of Facebook’s, well… book, it appears wholesale theft is afoot here.

Not only is their approach unoriginal, it seems vaguely inappropriate for a financial services provider to be measuring its market dominance in the same way that a sixth-former rates the popularity of their holiday photos. Furthermore, the last time I checked, most people would prefer less interactions with their bank and not more. If the future of banking is digital, then surely it will need to become invisible and seamless, not an attention seeking InstaNuisance.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh, as these are truly uncertain times for the once strident banking brigade, but it seems to me that slapping an emoji on a bank vault does not a fintech make. Just because tech giants like Alibaba and Amazon are plotting moves to establish banking services, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the big banks should commit themselves to returning the compliment by becoming social media companies!

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