Barclays’ Rodrigues: we’re the UK’s biggest fintech

MD claimed the bank is ahead of challengers in the digital race

By Alex Hamilton | 7 December 2018

The banking industry has been “digital for decades” and the race for innovation isn’t just about getting “the best possible app”, said Ruchir Rodrigues, managing director for digital and open banking at Barclays, at Fintech Connect in London this week.

Speaking in a keynote session, Rodrigues that digital change was something Barclays Bank had been doing for “the last six, seven years”. “People talk about digital-only and app-only banks,” said Rodrigues, “but seven million of our customers interact with us digitally”. Barclays, he added, has 1.8 billion interactions per year on its mobile app, which he claimed is the number one ranked financial app in the UK.

“It’s not just about the app,” said the Barclays MD. Claiming that Barclays is the UK’s “largest fintech”, Rodrigues added that “the most important thing” for the bank has been “the shift from being product-centric to customer-centric”. “It sounds extremely cliché when I say that – everybody talks about customer centricity – but if you think about a bank [like Barclays] that has operated in a certain way for centuries, this is a fundamental shift.

“When I joined Barclays about five years back, the question we had to ask ourselves was ‘is this a second chance for the banks?’ they’ve been around for centuries and here is an opportunity to fundamentally change how they do things.” The financial product, he claimed, has to become a small part of the overall experience which customers have. “People don’t wake up in the morning and say to themselves ‘I need to get a Barclays loan’, they have needs they want solved and we put a lot of energy into creating personalised experiences. We’ve integrated APIs to allow people to check crime rates and education opportunities when buying a house. Through doing these we’ve experienced a huge uplift in the usage of our products.”

When it comes to the usage of data, Rodrigues said that “those who can capitalise on data are the ones who will win the race”. “People talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence and all those fancy buzzwords, but if you don’t have the data there’s no point in having them, they won’t work”. Rodrigues admitted that there have been some “hard yards” covered in bringing together the data of the bank’s 24 million customers, but the rewards outweigh the effort. “We look at [the data] day in and day out,” he said. “It’s a substantial differentiator.”

Rodrigues was bullish about Barclays’ integration of API technology. “We’re the first high street bank to do unsecured lending through APIs on Moneysupermarket. We launched that three or four months ago. Customers get the same price there as on our app.” With APIs, said Rodrigues, Barclays is using its data to provide services to customers even when the bank isn’t “necessarily expecting” the customer to come to them.

“We were the first bank, ahead even of the challenger banks, to launch an aggregation app in our main banking application using APIs. We launched that about four weeks back and it’s been phenomenal.” Users of the new service, said Rodrigues, are giving feedback and asking what else they might be able to get out of their data.

Rodrigues acknowledged that he was claiming to a group of fintechs that a bank is the largest of them around. “The thing is, we cannot operate the way we did before. It just doesn’t work. Internal politics and corporate antibodies they destroy value very quickly. We’ve had to think hard about this.” To change the way a 328 year-old bank operates is a monumental task, he concluded, but the rewards are worth the risk.

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