My first boss: Antony Jenkins, former Barclays CEO on the digitisation of banking

·4-min read
Ex Barclays chief Antony Jenkins says digital transformation is
Ex Barclays chief Antony Jenkins says digital transformation is "absolutely critical if banks want to stay relevant and compete effectively".

Antony Jenkins is the former group chief executive of Barclays, following a three-year stint as its CEO and three years as Barclaycard CEO. He also spent 16 years at Citigroup as EVP.

Jenkins, 61, founded 10x Banking in 2016, his venture dedicated to shaping the corporate bank of the future, fuelled by digital transformation.

When I first started in banking at London’s South Kensington branch of Barclays Bank, my first boss really was the customer.

This is important for me as I learned a lot. It was 1983 and as a graduate trainee the first port of call was being sent to a local branch. In those days they were fully serviced for the local community, from well-heeled customers to local hair salons, solicitors, waiters, hotel staff and architects. It was end-to-end full service and a complete business unit – all paper based – with 30 staff working there.

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I didn’t know anything about Barclays’ products, but with the customers there were also quite a lot of wealthy people and tourists. We would store wills, we would put money on deposit, buy and sell stocks, foreign exchange and open bank accounts for students. It was a varied exposure for day-to-day financial services.

There were several things that also struck me about my experiences.

When people came in with a financial problem, it was often something that was making them anxious or they felt intimidated as it affected their money. How people connect to their money was inherently a difficult experience.

10x Banking is a fintech startup which aims to help banks manage their transition to digital services.
10x Banking is a fintech startup which aims to help banks manage their transition to digital services.

What I learnt was that banking is about customers; it sounds obvious but most of the banking industry doesn't think like that. They think about selling products. We had a 300-page paper manual with every product a customer could get from a branch and where I would go to find the answer. I recognised that if you could solve the problem when they were in the branch, you could really make them happy and take a burden off them.

The other thing I realised was that if you could do it in a way that made the customer's life easier, it would be a good thing for the bank and the customer, who would be more loyal over time. Years later, when I was at Barclays, we did a survey of our 1,500 branch network and found that the best customer satisfaction had the highest level of colleague engagement and profitability.

Operational excellence was an aspect that has also stayed with me. Everything in the branch had to be reconciled at the end of the day – the tech was horrible and we might have had a fax machine at best – and nobody went home until it did. It was very diverse in what you got to see in that early exposure of the front-facing part of banking.

When I returned in 2006 to Barclays, I had various jobs which included running the retail bank. They were going to close the South Kensington branch, knew that I had started my career there and so invited me to the closing party. What they didn’t know was that it was the night before I was appointed the group chief executive. There was a strange circularity to it all.

Ex Barclays chief Antony Jenkins founded 10x Banking in 2016.
Ex Barclays chief Antony Jenkins founded 10x Banking in 2016.

When the South Kensington branch closed, staffing had gone down to eight people; massive deskilling of the whole industry without any uplift in customer service. The banks have, however, done a good job at innovating. We’ve seen the growth of internet and mobile banking, contactless payment for low value transitions but with the decline of branch networks.

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When I set up 10x, I wanted to use modern technology to create a platform which would actually deliver the customer service that I believed the customer deserved. That’s where the threads of 40 years ago really come up to what I am doing today.

Back then they were real life issues when you were sitting across from somebody and dealing face-to-face with a customer. That ‘my first boss’ experience has stayed with me for my whole career.

I think the industry has today lost sight of the fact that we are here to serve customers. It’s not true everywhere, but if you asked people about their bank or credit card company today, most will say they are probably the same.

There is no substitute for a 22-year-old facing a customer across the counter who had a real problem – a lost cheque book or money issues – and it was up to me to solve it as quickly and comprehensively as possible. That is the job of banks and I think sometimes the industry forgets that.

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