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The digital revolution: how is technology changing the way we bank? An interview with Steven Roberts

By Andy Davis  

This article was produced in association with Barclays


How is the landscape of banking changing?

The pace of change through technology and innovation has never been quicker in banking than it is now. Banks have to operate in new ways because customers are changing the way they want to access their bank and their expectations of what the experience should be like. The explosion in the usage of smartphones and fast internet connections is key because people now expect instant access to everything via their smartphone including their bank account. At the same time, paper-based transactions such as cheques, which are at the heart of traditional banking, are declining rapidly—95 per cent of new account holders have never written a cheque. So the face of banking is changing enormously. On average a Barclays customer is using mobile banking over 26 times a month, while visiting a branch just twice. These are big changes in behaviour that are being brought about by new technologies and the transparency and ease of access that they bring, so our challenge is to adapt to what today’s customers want.

How are banks innovating to meet changing consumer demands?

Technology enables us to completely change the way we deliver services so I think we’re at a turning point where as organisations we have to decide whether to carry on doing what we’ve done in the past or to innovate and respond to the changing market. In the next couple of years we will be able to clear cheques with other banks using scanned images rather than paper cheques. That’s a big advance but it took an amendment to the Bills of Exchange Act of 1886 to make it possible. We’re also changing the way we deliver personal loans. In just 18 months we’ve reached the point where 42 per cent of all our lending in 2015 was provided instantly via mobile, rather than having customers visit a branch and go through the process face to face. But we’ve also learned that we have to become more comfortable with digital technologies ourselves too. Over the past couple of years we’ve put 10,000 iPads into our branches and in the process thousands of our staff have gained new skills and confidence that enables them to help our customers have a better banking experience and get the most out of what technology can offer them.

What benefits can technology offer and to whom?

Technology is bringing much faster, easier access to banking where and when people want it, which we believe is a big win for customers. There are also benefits for us in terms of efficiency, speed and cost saving. But it can also allow us to provide a better service for people who face particular challenges such as disability. For example, our Beacon technology is helping our branch colleagues to provide a better, more responsive service to customers with disabilities. We also have tailored support for the elderly, and have run more than 3,000 Tea and Teach events for older people to help them get more comfortable with using the internet. Equally we’ve run more than 650 free Code Playground sessions where we invite schoolchildren in to our branches to learn how to code. We think technology can bring benefits to all our customers, whoever they are, which is why educating people about digital technologies, at their own pace, has turned into a mission for us now.

But what about people who are less comfortable with technology or who don’t have access to it?

We’re determined that no one will be left behind by the changes that technology is bringing to banking. Apart from technology applications themselves, such as Beacon or our talking ATMs, we now have more than 14,000 specially trained staff throughout the country—our Digital Eagles—who provide free technology advice to anyone who wants it, whether or not they’re a customer. So far, the Digital Eagles have helped more than 140,000 people get more comfortable with digital technology—including things like Skype and email, as well as banking. We’re very clear that technology is nothing without people and are firmly committed to creating “smarter human banking” by finding innovative ways to solve routine, everyday money moments while empowering and equipping our team to help customers when they need us most and ensure no one is left behind.

Prospect‘s Andy Davis chaired a series of roundtable discussions on the impact of technology on banking, people and the economy more widely at this year’s Labour and Conservative Party conferences. Andy was be joined by Chi Onwurah MP and Steven Roberts, Strategic Transformation Director at Barclays, and other representatives from industry and the charity sector.

You can read an article summarising the discussions by visiting: The changing face of retail banking.

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