The crises for Barclays keep coming in a seemingly never-ending procession, the latest concerning ‘dark pools’. There would appear to be something rotten at the heart of the organization. Its Quaker founders must be turning in their graves at the sight of their ethically driven institution being turned into an apparently morality-free bank focused entirely on short-term profits. It is not the only major company focused on the short-term, but the banks as a sector display a particular inability to realise the need to develop customer-focused and sustainable strategies.
There appears, however, to be little recognition of what is really wrong. Despite the expected platitudes in Barclays’ new strategy about responding to stakeholder needs there is no real feeling of conviction. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that a further relaunch will be necessary down the line, following a few more scandals. As is seemingly the way with Barclays, there is a new creative descriptor – the ‘Go-To’ bank – to cover up the paucity of original thinking and continue the endless confusion of messages over the years.
The Barclays website would lead one to believe that the strategy is “we are confident that we will become the ‘Go-To’ bank for all our stakeholders”. The supporting copy provides no evidence of a real change in thinking that would support the claim, despite the numerous organizational shifts described. Antony Jenkins, the CEO, in a recent ‘Today’ programme interview on the BBC, helped to create the impression of an organization that believes that changing the communication is enough to convince its stakeholders that it has actually changed. His frequent reference to “the Go-To bank” simply reinforced an impression of shallowness.
An extraordinary interview with Sara Bennison, Barclays’ managing director for marketing, in ‘Marketing’ magazine recently, reinforces the impression of an organization that still just doesn’t get it. She says that “clearly, marketing is still a sales tool” despite coming to the conclusion that marketing is “not just selling stuff” as she confirms the bank believed hitherto. Bennison describes Barclays’ old model as being based on “awareness drives purchase”, which does quite neatly describe the rationale behind an organization that has spent vast sums over the years on a succession of advertising campaigns without apparently once thinking about whether a real marketing approach might encompass improving the core products and services and the development of meaningful and consistent customer attitudes towards the bank.
The new marketing approach will apparently involve “starting with a conversation with customers” rather than trying to sell a succession of products. This seemingly revelatory discovery is actually what students of marketing are taught on their first morning. It is the lack of customer focus, the lack of understanding of what marketing is really about, the short-term thinking, the inability to create (or recreate) an ethically based sustainable strategy that will continue to dog Barclays and its major competitors. As Bennison rounds off her interview: “It would be nice if it didn’t take the next 325 years to manage to get there, but that is very much the ambition”.