The reputation of Barclays Bank is a tale of two halves.
A paradoxical business, where genuine consumer innovation is often overshadowed by pantomime villain perceptions and patronising messaging.
On the one hand, Barclays has recently implemented one of the most innovative schemes in retail banking. Digital Eagles, in my opinion, is a game changer, offering a genuine solution to customers who’ve spent the last 10 years blindly circumnavigating the online world.
On the path to becoming a “Digital Powerhouse” (their words, not mine), initiatives like Tea and Teach – where the bank holds free online banking sessions – provide an inspired way to build deeper relationships with customers across the country, face to face.
And at the same time as empowering them it helps solve the business problem of how to get more customers out of expensive branches and onto more efficient online banking.
But this type of customer innovation can feel sporadic – and let’s be honest, does anyone really trust that Barclays has its customers’ best interests at heart? Therein lies the problem: people just don’t trust them.
You could argue this soured stance is down to those nasty investment bankers, spoiling the image of a retail bank that is striving to serve as honestly and efficiently as possible. But that feels too convenient an answer.
In my opinion, the problem lies deep within the business’ genetics, rooted in a lacklustre purpose and a muddy direction.
The wrong way
“Helping people achieve their ambitions – in the right way”. How bland. How incremental. How defensive. “In the right way”? Like doing things in the wrong way with your hard earned cash would ever be a viable way to operate.
If a business wants to make a genuine social contribution, it should start with who they are, not what they do. A great purpose creates commercial stretch and direction.
The bank should stretch to inspire the level of innovation that leads to happier customers and sustained growth. But “helping people achieve their ambitions” achieves neither.
It doesn’t create focus and steadfast commitment to enhancing the customer experience. It doesn’t make reduced customer complaints a logical and inevitable goal. It certainly doesn’t inspire leaps forward in how banking should work in a rapidly changing world.
Fresh sense of purpose
So, Barclays, it’s time for a new purpose. One that will draw out and unleash the passion and creativity that lies behind initiatives like Digital Eagles. One that will make it unacceptable for anyone in any role to settle for the status quo, or find lazy ways to turn larger profits.
Unmuddy the water
The bank needs purpose that encourages all of its staff to get up every morning and know (without their manager having to tell them) what they are expected to achieve today. Something that helps people trust them again.
Barclays needs to go back to its core to develop a purpose, strategy and culture that will help them unstick and leap forwards.
A core message that not only secures its Digital Powerhouse status, but gives the business positive momentum across the piece once again.