At Bar­clays, tell­ers must get the cam­era an­gle right

As branches dwin­dle, Bar­clays bets on video tell­ers “Look into that tiny lit­tle pin­hole of a we­b­cam and be en­gag­ing”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - NEWS - HSBC

Over the course of her 31-year ca­reer at the U.K. bank Bar­clays, Jayne New­ton went from be­ing a cashier in a branch to mak­ing home vis­its to wealthy clients in the heady days be­fore the fi­nan­cial cri­sis. She still works with cus­tomers face-to-face to­day—sort of. She’s one of the bank’s 60 video tell­ers, spend­ing her days in front of a we­b­cam in a noise-re­sis­tant pod at an office in Liver­pool.

New­ton says she likes work­ing on cam­era, but it’s de­mand­ing. “Be­fore I do ev­ery video, I al­ways make sure I brush my hair and put my lip­stick on,” she says. “You make sure you keep your fa­cial ex­pres­sions in con­trol.”

Jackie Bram­bles, a for­mer TV show host, helped Bar­clays em­ploy­ees get com­fort­able on cam­era. “It’s a real

jug­gling act,” she says. “They have to be able to look into that tiny lit­tle pin­hole of a we­b­cam and be en­gag­ing and in­for­ma­tive and lovely and po­lite, but at the same time have that sur­rep­ti­tious lit­tle glance to make sure: ‘Am I be­ing un­der­stood? Is this per­son get­ting it? Are they happy?’”

Af­ter pi­lot­ing video for se­lect cus­tomers for about a year, Bar­clays started ex­pand­ing it in April and plans to have 110 video bankers by yearend. They’ll be reach­able 24 hours a day by tap­ping a but­ton in the bank’s mo­bile app or click­ing a link on its web­site.

Although the bank con­tin­ues to elim­i­nate branches—from 2,000 in the U.K. a decade ago to 1,362 in 2015—man­agers in­sist video bank­ing isn’t driven by cost cuts. “This isn’t about forc­ing peo­ple to change the way they talk to us,” says Steven Cooper, head of per­sonal bank­ing at Bar­clays. “It’s about giv­ing cus­tomers choice.” Bar­clays is look­ing for ways to con­nect with its cus­tomers and, more im­por­tant, hang on to them in the face of com­pe­ti­tion from fi­nan­cial-technology star­tups promis­ing to let peo­ple man­age their money from a smart­phone.

Cooper echoes the gospel of dig­i­tal­bank­ing con­sul­tants, who ar­gue the ser­vice should be used to make cus­tomers feel per­son­ally val­ued. Video tell­ers can act as a hu­man sup­port sys­tem for con­sumers open­ing an ac­count, trans­fer­ring money, or re­search­ing a loan.

Bar­clays has tried to sim­u­late the branch ex­pe­ri­ence. The bankers, three-quar­ters of whom are women, wear turquoise and navy uni­forms and sit in front of a match­ing screen em­bossed with the com­pany’s logo. For the ini­tial train­ing, Bram­bles had a makeup artist give tips to men and women alike on how to en­hance one’s ap­pear­ance for the cam­era.

A video ser­vice doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily make branches re­dun­dant: of­fers video bank­ing for mort­gage queries via kiosks in 39 of its U.K. lo­ca­tions. It plans to ex­pand the ser­vice later this year, says Nigel Hin­shel­wood, head of the bank’s U.K. busi­ness.

Some fi­nan­cial com­pa­nies have tried video and found the in­vest­ment in train­ing and technology not worth the trou­ble. Cit­i­group and Amer­i­can

Ex­press have pi­loted ser­vices— Amer­i­can Ex­press had agents avail­able via an iPad app—which they nixed.

The technology only re­cently be­came re­li­able and cheap enough for mass adop­tion by banks, says Alyson Clarke, an an­a­lyst with For­rester Re­search. “It’s hard to con­nect with a cus­tomer un­less you’ve got a high­qual­ity im­age on screen,” she says. “I don’t want to have a video con­ver­sa­tion with my bank and feel like I’m talk­ing to my grandma on Skype.” Gabrielle Cop­pola and Stephen Mor­ris

The bot­tom line Cheaper tech makes video bank­ing pos­si­ble, but mak­ing it per­sonal still takes work. Bar­clays hired a me­dia con­sul­tant to help.

don’t in­tro­duce new in­stru­ments and then with­draw them.” He said the government was none­the­less mov­ing to ex­tend ma­tu­ri­ties by chang­ing the mix of bonds it is­sues. The av­er­age life­span of its debt is about 69 months, up from 49 in De­cem­ber 2008.

Most coun­tries sell­ing ul­tra-long debt don’t do it on any reg­u­lar sched­ule. France has is­sued 50-year bonds only three times since 2005, and the 50-year security Bel­gium sold in April was its first of that ma­tu­rity. Spain’s sale was its se­cond foray into the ul­tra­long mar­ket. In con­trast, even Trea­sury In­fla­tion-Pro­tected Se­cu­ri­ties—the least­fre­quently auc­tioned U.S. debt—are of­fered at least three times a year. And the government is slow to add prod­ucts. Af­ter the cre­ation of TIPS in 1997, its next ad­di­tion didn’t come un­til 2014, when it in­tro­duced float­ing-rate notes.

The Trea­sury has also got­ten push­back against ul­tra-long bonds from the Wall Street banks that act as deal­ers, step­ping into the mar­ket to make sure there’s al­ways a buyer or a seller. The list of in­vestors who’d want a bond that doesn’t ma­ture for 40 or 50 years is rel­a­tively short, says Ja­son Sable, a trader at Mizuho Se­cu­ri­ties USA. The likely pri­mary buy­ers—pen­sions and in­sur­ers—tend to pre­fer high­eryield­ing cor­po­rate debt. Other in­vestors may deem ul­tra-long bonds as per­ilous, be­cause their value on the sec­ondary mar­ket could fall sharply if in­ter­est rates sub­se­quently rose.

If ea­ger buy­ers dried up, deal­ers could po­ten­tially get stuck with un­sold bonds on their books, Sable says. The Trea­sury’s Bor­row­ing Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, which in­cludes some deal­ers, voiced that con­cern in 2011, the last time the department asked it to con­sider ul­tra-long bonds.

“The Trea­sury likes to see large, liq­uid mar­kets,” says James Moore, head of in­vest­ment so­lu­tions at

Pa­cific In­vest­ment Management,

one of the world’s big­gest bond man­agers. “And some­thing like a 50-year bond is not go­ing to be par­tic­u­larly liq­uid.” El­iza Ron­alds-Han­non and Liz Capo McCormick

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