Catherine Muirden is head of human resources for Barclays UK Retail Banking branch network. She speaks to The Gateway about a fresh approach to banking that puts customers first and explains how graduates can help to start a revolution in the high street.
What can you offer graduates?
Barclays is a fantastic brand with a proven history of innovation. We were the first retail organisation to have a female branch manager, the first to introduce an ATM, the first to introduce online banking in the UK. I believe we've got the best leaders in retail banking. It's a great organisation to be a part of. Our employee engagement survey, which we carry out every year, gave us a score that our suppliers of the survey said they'd never seen in a global organisation. We also offer great career progression and an attractive remuneration package. In the past it would take people a long time to become a branch manager: not any more. As a graduate, the unparalleled responsibility you get as a branch manager makes our programme a hugely attractive proposition. Career progression at Barclays isn't limited to the UK. We are a global organisation so there are huge opportunities for people to pursue. In HR four of my colleagues are out in Tanzania at the moment on short secondments to help our African arm to improve some of our processes. We've just sent somebody to Egypt to work in HR out there. That's just within my world. There are huge opportunities across the whole Barclays group for people if they want to progress further.
Why do you work for Barclays?
Before joining Barclays I was with Marks and Spencer for twenty-three years in a variety of different roles. I spent five years as a commercial manager, which means I ran stores and undertook projects in our head office. I then became head of recruitment for the group. So I have experienced a number of different aspects of the world of retail.
Are there any similarities between what you do now and what you did at M&S?
Both are about offering a great service to people. The big difference is that with banking you're mainly offering a transactional service, which has to be performed. People have to cash cheques; they have to withdraw money. But banking is equally about engaging with customers, having conversations with them, deciding what they need. I can remember at M&S whole families sitting down around the table in the home furnishings section saying, "we're buying a new house and now we want to kit it out with everything" and the assistant would sit down and ask them what they needed. Buying a mortgage is not like buying a sofa, but I've seen similar conversations take place around the table in our branches - the whole family sitting there, talking to one of our personal bankers who'll say: "so you're mid-way through buying a house, what else do you need?" It can be a relationship for life. I've taken my son, who's five, into Barclays and opened his first bank account. He might start a journey then that takes him through his mortgage needs, his personal financial needs; he might become a venture capitalist one day (I hope he does because then he can look after me!) in which case he may use the services provided by Barclays Capital. There aren't many organisations which offer this kind of lifetime of support to people.
What made you make the switch?
When you're approached about a job you want to know what the people are like. The more people I met the more I thought "I've got to come and work in this place". The exciting thing was that they were on a journey to put the customer at the heart of everything that they do.
What does that mean in practice?
The most obvious example that I would give is an initiative we call "real retail". It means bringing together all the specialist banking products and services, for example financial planning, local business and premier banking, under one roof, overseen by the branch manager. All the customer's needs - for personal or business banking services - can be met in the one branch. It also means keeping our products and services simple. Whenever we ask customers what they need they tell us they want simple banking. That's what we provide. I'll give you an example: after we launched our ISA campaign in 2007 we did some research, asking customers what they wanted. They said "give us a simple equation that says 'if I get an ISA it will give me 6 per cent, not 12 per cent with lots of loopholes, but just 6 per cent'". That's what we did. When we launched the campaign in 2008 we had ten times the ISA applications of the previous year. We never believed that our numbers would increase that significantly. Customers don't want any strings attached. They want a clear offer they can understand.
What advice would you give to applicants?
Some people have preconceived ideas about what a retail bank does. I think a lot of them are really surprised about how customer-centric we are and how innovative we are as an organisation. Before you apply it's important that you understand exactly what we do. The best thing you can do is go and visit a local flagship branch - see for yourself how things are changing.
Retail Graduate of the Year
David Randall talks to The Gateway about his experience of the retail graduate programme.
"The best moment I've had as a branch manager was sharing the news with the team that we'd moved up to being the number one branch of this size in our area. We're now also in the top half nationally."
David Randall has been managing the branch on Fenchurch Street for four months.
The branch has over 13,500 account holders and David manages a team of around 37 people.
"When I took over the branch we were just above the fourth quartile. I said we had the potential to be number one in the country if we pulled together. To be able to share the news that after three months we'd climbed into the top half and to see the belief building within the team was very gratifying."
It's clear that working as part of a team is what David really enjoys about his job.
"It's what I learnt in my previous career - working with people and helping them to reach their potential."
David was an officer in the Royal Artillery for over seven years. As a captain he served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, leading teams of up to 36.
"When I left the army, whatever I did next was going to be the start of my second career. Barclays is a strong brand I'd grown up with. As I did more research it became clear it's an ambitious organisation, with a global presence. And the retail graduate programme was very impressive."
He joined the programme in September 2008 and has already held a number of different roles at several levels in the organisation. He spent his first three months assessing the level of service in branches across the Heathrow area, then a further three months examining a single branch in Uxbridge. After that he became an executive assistant to the regional director for London South (an area which includes 170 branches and around 2,000 employees), a position he held for four months.
"I've been able to experience a variety of different sides of the retail bank at an area, branch and regional level. On other programmes I looked at I might have just stayed on and progressed through a branch. It would have taken me a few years to gain a perspective on the bigger picture."
How does his current job compare to his former career?
"They present very different challenges. I had a great time whilst I was in the army. It was the right thing for me at that time, as was the decision to change careers. This career is just as challenging. It's testing my analytical as well as my leadership skills."
So far those skills have stood him in good stead. Over the last six months, on top of his day job, David has been involved in a strategic project, working in a team with seven other fellow participants in the graduate scheme.
"Currently Barclays invests a lot in training and developing its people through formal courses. But it didn't have a single robust model for assessing the return on the investment. We were asked to develop one. We had to understand the problem and come up with a plan to solve it, the complicating factor being that no one was working on the project full time. I took the project management role. The challenge was to get seven other people who were being pulled in different directions to work together. It was like The Apprentice except we were in eight different locations instead of being thrown together, which would have been infinitely easier. In the end we had to present our findings to the whole of the graduate intake and senior management."
What happened to their proposal in the end?
"It's being piloted with a view to being adopted not just in the retail bank but across Barclays at a global level. That's something we're quite proud of."