June 10th 2016
Our June speaker was South-African born Michael Hartig, Managing Director, Barclays Corporate Banking for the northwest and north Wales, who came with Liam Brougham from their Manchester office. He may not have realised that he was speaking to an audience with a preponderance of former bank managers. Neither did I, till several chaps now in business as Independent Financial Advisers and Wealth Managers revealed themselves over the bacon baps.
I’ve been a Barclays customer for over 20 years and generally have few complaints. But we were not just customers. One attendee was the manager of a rival bank. I felt for Michael as he faced heated criticisms of charging small businesses too much – it got a bit like Prime Minister’s Questions, at times.
Founded 325 years ago, Barclays survived the recession better than most UK banks, and are trying to return to the values of the Quaker founders. “Integrity, service, excellence and stewardship,” said Michael. They were the first to come clean on the Libor rate-fixing scandal. They’re still paying out over miss-selling.
Barclays’ turnover is down from £32bn in 2011 to £25bn last year, but it’s still huge, with 130,000 employees. I asked why so many, when lots of transactions are now online? The answer was that many are in Africa, which Barclays is about to sell. So it expects to shrink even more. On the day of the meeting, their shares stood at £1.80. As I write, it’s £1.60, since analysts think they’d be worst hit by Brexit. So their woes are not yet ended.
“The new digital revolution is under way,” said Michael, with counter volumes down 19% since the same date last year, and withdrawals over the counter 24% down. That means, of course, that those who do go into a branch expect to be looked after nicely. A barrage of comment from one member, whose wife prefers that personal attention, was a tough reminder.
Online customers are expecting more, too. Fraud is an ever-present menace, with phishing emails and false invoicing, and ID theft. “We are managing risk all the time,” as Michael put it. I’d like my bank to invest in vigorous investigation alongside the police, rather as insurance companies have begun to do; then I could just forward them all the rubbish, and expect them to catch the criminals. And I’d also like them to guarantee that they don’t sell my details on to anyone else. Wouldn’t that be nice…?
There’s a tension between “service” and running an efficient, profitable business which wins respect and more customers year on year. That requires a confident approach to the future. Barclays, we felt, is still a work in progress.