Barclays puts faith in e-banking

Mike Simons and Nick Huber look at Barclays' e-banking plans, while bank CIO David Weymouth explains what is driving the new...

Mike Simons and Nick Huber look at Barclays' e-banking plans, while bank CIO David Weymouth explains what is driving the new strategy

The phrase "burning platform" is consultant-speak for large corporations facing do-or-die decisions. When it finds its way onto page one of a strategy document for one of the UK's big four retail banks, it's time for the whole financial sector to sit up and listen.

Barclays' e-taskforce has produced a radical transformation plan using the Web, outsourcing and bleeding-edge customer relationship management systems.

The spur to change is fear: that the Internet has set fire to the existing business model; that Barclays has missed first mover advantage in e-banking and - crucially - that its piecemeal e-projects have got in the way of transforming the whole business.

The solution is a two-fold revolution in business practice: the investments needed to transform the bank's relationship with its customers will be unlocked through a "fundamental shift in the operating model" internally.

Though the plans are at an early stage, they have big implications for the whole approach to e-enablement in the retail finance industry.

Earlier this year Barclays established an e-enablement taskforce to devise a blueprint for the bank to survive and prosper. The bank has been extremely successful in the "land grab" phase of developing its e-business, signing up one million customers online.

However, the taskforce warned that simply bolting virtual channels on the existing business was "impacting our ability to move forward", adding "cost and complexity".

"Doing nothing is not an option," warned the taskforce, made up of bank highfliers backed by consultants from Andersen Consulting, Computacenter and Oracle.

The taskforce highlighted the threats posed by e-commerce, including "fragmentation and disintermediation of the value chains," in other words, customers cherry picking from the offerings of new suppliers, and vice versa.

It also warned about "a shift in power to the consumer, including a reduction in the inertia, which has benefited the bank to date".

The group considered four different e-business models:

  • Separate, stand-alone line of business - a model chosen by firms such as Sears and Citibank

  • Spin-off, with the e-business established as a separate entity - chosen by Toys R Us, Bank One and P&G

  • Portfolio/Incubator, with e-businesses nurtured or managed as an investment - a route chosen by CBS, Dupont and UPS

  • Integrated operation, with the e-business contained within existing lines of business, for example American Express or Charles Schwab.

    Barclays' taskforce recommended an integrated model overseen by a central leader. This would allow stand-alone e-activities in each line of business, while ensuring co-ordination and integration.

    The plan involves fundamental restructuring of Barclays' operations and IT infrastructure alongside significant outsourcing of traditional banking activities.

    Customer relationship management (CRM) was seen as the key to the future, though chief information officer David Weymouth told Computer Weekly he had not yet decided whether to deploy a single CRM system or a patchwork of best-of-breed solutions.

    The taskforce talked about analysing everything from bank and credit card information to the "click stream" of their Internet usage to identify new selling opportunities.

    For Barclays this means offering financial services "at the moment of need and at the point choice is surrendered". It also means broadening the business model, to collaborate with wider retail partners and develop new revenue streams.

    The taskforce warned that benchmarking had shown a "dramatic gap between our potential opportunities in this area and our actions thus far". It called for "controlled gambling" in the development of new products.

    For the bank the key to success is fundamentally restructuring operations through "internal e-enablement", which promises substantial savings and greater flexibility. Key to these plans is outsourcing.

    Gartner analyst Alexander Drobik said sorting out the IT infrastructure would be far easier than dealing with the "people problems" caused by the planned changes.

    Barclays admits the challenges it faces are "extraordinary", but the teething problems of its online competitors show there is everything to play for. In the "burning platform" metaphor, the job of the business leader is to alert those in danger that the oil rig is burning - even if they can't see the flames.

    Barclays' leaked document may just have done that for the entire retail banking sector.

    The bumpy road to e-banking

    High-profile online bank launches have been dogged by glitches

    Egg (Prudential)

  • October 1998: Egg, the standalone Internet bank was launched as a telephone bank with an optional Internet service

  • September 1999: Egg launches Europe's first Internet credit card. But the card runs into security problems a few months later. Egg was failing to properly implement the log-off function

    Cahoot (Abbey National)

  • June 2000: The bank's Web site crashes on its first day and is unable to accept applications for accounts for most of the first two days. Goes down again on the fourth day

    IF - Intelligent finance (Halifax Group)

  • July 2000: Postpones the launch of its phone and Internet bank one day before it is due to go live. Halifax cites concerns over the site's "capacity management". Currently testing the system

    Smile (The Co-operative Bank)

    October 1999: A rare breed in e-banking - a glitch-free launch.

    Barclays: potential outsourcing areas by 2003

  • Customer data entry

  • Enterprise financial services

  • Trading community and purchasing services

  • Legal, regulatory and compliance management

  • Enterprise financial management

  • Internal fulfillment, physical custody

  • Proposition processing

  • Customer transaction accounting

  • Voucher processing

  • Cash services

  • Physical sort

  • Investment management

  • Read more on Business applications