Barclays GRB has a tradition of embracing change and new opportunities, which is now shaping its future. The Gateway spoke to Financial Controller, Simon Grimwood.
My job - and Barclays GRB
I originally joined the tax function of Barclays and became Head of Tax for what was then known as Barclays GRCB – Barclays Global Retail and Commercial Bank. I am now Financial Controller of Barclays GRB – Barclays Global Retail Bank. This role involves a whole range of different functions, but at the core is ensuring that our financial statements are correct as they relate to GRB. It is a significant role when you consider the size and scale of GRB (£1,821million profit before tax and 66,000 employees in 2009).
During my time at Barclays, we’ve had several internal reorganisations, most recently one where we decided to align the commercial bank more closely with Barclays Capital to better match customers and clients with our products and services. So Barclays GRCB became the global retail bank, and the commercial bank became Barclays Corporate, all of which happened at the beginning of this year. So since January 1, 2010, Barclays has run as a global retail bank on one side with Barclays Capital and Barclays Corporate on the other, and with Barclays Wealth and Absa (a South African banking group in which Barclays holds a majority stake) operating alongside us as well.
Barclays GRB is focused on consumers and local business customers. Within Barclays GRB, there is UK retail banking, which is the high street bank that everyone recognises, and whose products include mortgages, unsecured loans, current accounts and savings, and which also serves local business customers. We also have Barclaycard, the credit card and payments business. Then we have the non-UK units – Western Europe Retail Banking and Barclays Africa.
Western Europe Retail Banking operates in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy and Barclays Africa largely serves sub-Saharan Africa - we’re in ten countries, including Kenya, Botswana and Egypt. Most offer both retail banking and commercial banking. In most of the African countries we’re actually not seen as a foreign bank because we’ve been there so long – on average we have an 85 year presence in these markets. Africa is an area that we expect to grow economically, especially when compared to the UK and other mature economies, and that is attractive to us.
I studied chemical engineering and when I graduated, a lot of engineering graduates chose careers in finance and accountancy because the career path in accounting was very clear - especially in the UK. Employers in this sector were keen on engineering graduates as we’re numerate, lateral thinkers who are also very practical, and so I thought I had the base skills needed to succeed. To work here in finance at Barclays GRB you need strong accounting skills and very good analytical capabilities. And you have to have a good understanding of financial systems, processes and controls. An understanding of how banks fundamentally work is also important.
We recruit students onto our graduate programme and sponsor them through either the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant), ACCA (Associate Chartered Certified Accountant) or CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) qualification.
The industry – and how we’re moving forward
One of the things that we at Barclays are very proud of is our history of innovation and of pioneering new technology in the banking industry. To give two examples, we issued the first credit card in the UK in 1966, and we installed the world’s first ATM in our Enfield branch in 1967. So Barclays has a long tradition of being a pioneer in banking services, which we want to continue.
One of the recent advances we’re proud of is the development of contactless technology. We issue debit and credit cards that have a contactless chip in them, which is aimed at low value but high volume cash transactions, for example, buying coffee. If a retailer has a contactless payment terminal, you can go in, say you’d like to buy a coffee, get your coffee and, rather than putting your card in a chip and pin machine, you just wave it in front of the contactless terminal, which automatically debits your account or credit card account. The card has a limit on it so you can’t buy high value items, because clearly you want your account to be protected. Also, you can only spend a certain amount each day, which is quite low, but this facility is really just aimed at replacing the cash in your pocket that you use to buy a sandwich, or your newspaper in the morning. Another innovation is our smartphone internet banking site, Barclays.mobi. These are just two examples of how we are using technology to enhance our service to customers.
The effect of the financial crisis on the banking industry has been well-documented, but the view of Barclays is that we would like to look forward now as we emerge from the crisis, and work out what needs to be done differently in the future. There are a number of external factors that are impacting, or could impact, Barclays as a whole, for example, the Independent Commission on Banking may recommend that universal banks are split into separate retail and investment banks. The Basel III rules will also affect us as we will be required to hold more capital to absorb future losses. But people here at Barclays feel proud that the bank was able to weather the financial crisis and did not have to become partially owned by the government.
Barclays GRB have launched a new Future Leaders Development Programme, which offers graduates careers in Global Retail Banking, HR, Marketing & Products, Credit Risk & Analytics, Operations, Technology, Finance and Tax. To find out more visit: seemore-bemore.com/gateway