Can Barclays become tomorrow’s tech powerhouse?

The bank is insightful and creative, but will the bets it has placed catapult it ahead of competitors in the financial services space?
18 October 2018

Why Barclays is innovating for the customer. Source: Shutterstock

If you’ve been reading the news, you know that banks have not only taken note of the emerging technologies and the new-age startups that are keen to disrupt the financial services industry, but have also taken steps to prevent their obsolescence.

Many experts even believe that banks and others in the financial services space are simply throwing money at technology just so they can tell customers that they’re on the job and keen on delivering on the digital expectations of customers.

Let’s take artificial intelligence (AI) powered chatbots for example. Every bank today, for better or for worse, has a chatbot. However, how far that adds value to the lives of customers is anybody’s guess.

True, customers have fallen in love with a few chatbots such as Bank of America’s Erica and HSBC’s Amy, but a majority of chatbots don’t really do much for everyday customers — despite the million-odd investment it requires to deploy one at such a scale.

However, one bank seems to be hitting the nail on the head when it comes to using technology to touch the lives (and hearts) of customers: Barclays.

The London-headquartered bank is creating thoughtful solutions and forging interesting partnerships that might just help it beat competitors and tech-disruptors looking to snatch a piece of its market.

Barclays, for example, offers innovative talking cash machines/ATMs which is a great help to one-fifth of UK residents who are disabled.

“It was a huge catalyst for change. We now have virtual sign language interpreters and high visibility bank cards. People think accessibility market is a small market, or accessible design is boring, but the purple pound (estimated household spending power of disabled people in the UK) is worth GBP265 billion (US$347 billion),” explained Barclay’s Head of Digital Accessibility Paul Smyth.

The bank has also recently joined hands with Paypal, hoping to allow Barclays customers in the US and the UK use their PayPal accounts on the bank’s online and mobile phone-based platforms while simultaneously providing Paypal account holders with access to Barclays products.

According to CNBC, the move is a result of mounting concerns in the industry that big technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Alibaba could come to dominate the US$1.8 trillion global payments industry.

Further, the UK-based bank is also working on several AI projects behind the scenes, looking to leverage the technology in its trading, lending, and risk management divisions.

Business Insider Intelligence Senior Research Analyst Jaime Toplin, privy to some of the AI initiatives behind closed doors at Barclays believes that the bank’s use of more advanced technology could be emblematic of what’s to come, and might serve as a blueprint for how banks can use AI to not only automate existing processes or preempt problems, but also to run through and model full scenarios to prepare for any scenario that might occur.

“If effective, it could also put Barclays towards the forefront of the space, positioning it ahead of competitors and ensuring success across its divisions regardless of the global environment,” Toplin explained.

Top bosses at Barclays seem to be quite interested in leveraging new and emerging technologies — and they’re not shying away from making the right investments.

At its new Buchanan Wharf campus in the UK, Barclays intends to recruit 2,500 professionals to help with technology improvements — among other things. The bank has also launched a similar facility in Whippany, New Jersey in the US with a similar aim.

“This world-class campus will play a pivotal role in the execution of Barclays’ long-term strategic priorities, bringing teams together into new and vibrant working environments that accelerate innovation and increase collaboration,” explained Barclays Group COO Paul Compton speaking at the launch of the center in Whippany.

From the looks of it, Barclays has created quite a bit of firepower and has several pilots and experiments going on in its labs. In the coming months, it could become the technology powerhouse of the industry — provided it has made the right bets.