Barclays European CIO wants to be the Google of banks

“When people think of music, they think Apple, when they think search they think Google. We want people, when they think of banking to think Barclays,” says Anthony Watson, European CIO for Barclays Retail and Business Banking. As the interview is taking place Watson’s prophecy exists, but for all the wrong reasons, Barclays is embroiled in a highly public scandal over the setting of Libor rates. It says something of Watson, and perhaps Barclays too that the interview is taking place at all. Watson doesn’t need any PR handlers and he is a man that faces perceptions and challenges head on rather than shy from them.

Given that Barclays and Libor had been headline news for two weeks when CIO UK met Anthony Watson, the Libor issue had to be addressed and Watson, while having to represent Barclays was not afraid to tackle it.

“The process of setting of Libor estimates, and by that I mean the actual physical process, is archaic and out dated. Up to twenty contributor banks call up the BBA (British Bankers' Association) give them their daily estimated rate which is then published through Thompson Reuters. The BBA is in charge of Libor and not the BoE (Bank of England) or the FSA (Financial Services Authority) as some people believe” the technology leader says.

“An archaic process itself obviously is not an excuse. To be clear we (Barclays) were the first to settle an industry wide, global investigation. We conducted an exhaustive internal investigation over more than three years. We reviewed 22 million documents from over 200 custodian and over 1 million audio files. We at all times fully cooperated with the authorities. In total, we have invested nearly £100m to ensure that no stone has been left unturned. Our exceptional level of cooperation was expressly recorded by the authorities, and was described as “extraordinary and extensive”.

“Personally I am deeply disappointed by the impression created by these events.  Remember nearly 150,000 around the world work for Barclays and literally a very small handful acted improperly. I can tell you candidly all of us at Barclays are greatly upset by these events, what our company and our people stand for could not be further from the truth. Each and every one of our people works hard every day to serve our customers and clients. A number other banks, who have yet to be identified, have been linked to these events. It seems ironic to me that there has been such an intense focus on Barclays alone.”

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Libor followed hot on the heels of the RBS outage of over a week in late June, which only piled pressure on a UK banking sector that is looked upon with great cynicism by the British public following the need for the government to financially bale the banks out. Again, the RBS outage is a topic no banking CIO can avoid.

“What happened at RBS was in real terms a unique event and from what I can tell was more to do with a failure of people and process than technology alone” Watson says. The CIO, as you’d expect, is hesitant to comment directly on a rival bank, but did of course analyse the situation at RBS and what it meant for his own operation.

“We constantly review and invest in our technology” “Constant improvement and investment in new technology ensures our platforms are more efficient, stable and more reliable,“ he says. Watson not only analysed the technology of his organisation uses, but also ensured his human assets and operational processes were not a potential issue for Barclays.”

Barclays in Europe has almost 14,000 employees with Watson providing technology to the vast majority, excluding Investment Banking, Wealth and Corporate Banking.