Many people see Barclays as a byword for scandal and excess among Britain’s banks – the rigging of Libor, the widespread miss-selling of PPI, and the indecent payouts to top executives and investment bankers. In addition, there are reports of a culture of bullying in its Wealth Management Division.
As a result, Barclays is going back to its roots; retail banking. And the man appointed to regain the public’s trust is Ashok Vaswani.
Ashok gave an impressive presentation at a Cranfield Talks Business meeting last Wednesday. His key thesis was that trust comes from customers believing that the bank is interested in their welfare. His mantra is “make life easy for the customer” and profits will follow; not the other way round. It’s a message Peter Druker preached over 50 years ago, but few have managed to implement.
To achieve this culture change he believes that he and his fellow leaders have to, literally, show the way. Amongst other things: he personally reads customer complaints; he preaches humility as a core leadership value, and he has substituted customer service for sales as a key indicator of performance.
What made him impressive was the energy, enthusiasm and consistency with which his messages were delivered. Slight concerns intruded when he described Bob Diamond as misunderstood, justified executive pay by reference to the healthy majority that had approved it, and suggested that it was hard to tell the extent to which PPI had been miss-sold.
The rhetoric, however, was excellently delivered in the context of ‘worthwhile purpose’ i.e. doing good. But is Ashok really an enlightened leader? And how do we know if the rhetoric represents reality? So far so good in that he has been party to the divestment of the toxic ‘casino’ aspects of the bank; efforts to involve the bank in socially responsible activities; collaboration with the regulator, and the creation of a web facility for customers to submit ideas for improvement (over 3,000 suggestions to date). But will it last?
And within this question lies a leadership lesson:
Deliver with passion, keep it simple and back up your message with consistency and action, and you can get people to believe in you.
All change programmes have to start with the sort of vision Ashok provided, but as he said, it will take time. And only then will I know if I was right.