FEATURE1 April 2006

Cash and delivery

Lucy Aitken talks to Barclays’ Peter Duffy about profitable partnerships, customers, differentiation and putting finance first

Stroll through Canary Wharf station on the way to Barclays headquarters and copy-heavy ads for the bank hit you between the eyes. One screams: “Barclays revolutionaries find the status quo revolting”.

A few minutes later, as you weave through the labyrinthine corridors, fresh-faced employees pose on posters next to the ideas that they’ve had. Rachel, “Barclays revolutionary”, came up with a scheme to give homeless people bank accounts, while Matt, “Barclays perfectionist” thinks that spending time in clients’ businesses helps you to gain a better understanding of their needs.

Welcome to the new-look Barclays. “We’re an organisation which comes up with great ideas for customers,” states Peter Duffy, the marketing services director, from the eighth floor of the bank’s skyscraper. “Our new brand positioning is all about the creativity of our people.”

Responsible for the 120-strong team which looks after advertising, media, in-store merchandising, research analytics, CRM and direct mail, Duffy shows examples of new in-store communication. The language is chatty and friendly; a million miles away from the buttoned-down stuffiness synonymous with banks of yesteryear.

The pens have been unleashed from their chains, the cash machine has now become the more vernacular ‘hole in the wall’ and internal flip-charts have the jocular words ‘flippin good ideas’ printed on the top. Instead of ‘fluent in finance’ and Hollywood luvvies, above-the-line work serves up the more inclusive line: ‘Barclays, now there’s a thought’. Tactical work informs consumers about the cash benefits of products: a 10 per cent interest rate on a current account, competitive loan rates, insurance offers which will be matched or Barclays will give you £50. It all feels, well, quite un-Barclays.

Money talks
“It’s a journey we’re on as we begin to speak to customers in their language and talk to them in a much more humorous, direct and simple way,” says Duffy. “Consumers see the way that UK banks speak as very parent-child; it’s just a characteristic of traditional banks. Research showed that we are quite formal with our customers so we wanted to articulate more clearly to them.”

Duffy’s role was created in November 2005 to create more synergy between customer insight and brand, and a more down-to-earth way of communicating to consumers is one manifestation of its work to date. “In part, it’s about getting market researchers to work more directly with people who produce communication strategies and materials,” says Duffy.

This synergy is being spearheaded from the top because insight has strong representation on the Barclays board, according to Duffy. Jim Hytner, the former marketing director at ITV, Sky and Channel 5, left behind the glitz and grind of TV to become Barclays’ group marketing director in 2004. He reports into Gary Hoffman, the chairman of UK banking and chairman of Barclaycard. Duffy says: “The Board focuses on opportunities and issues, and research directly feeds the customer dimension into that. The consumer is taken very seriously.”

The role of the insight team, says Duffy, “is to find its way into the business decisions that are being made rather than waiting to be invited. That requires a proactive consultancy-driven approach; a different set of skills to a traditional analyst or market researcher. Our people now have a range of skills so that they can have direct commercial discussions with the business.”

Take your partners
He regards the role of market research agencies as “partners” rather than “suppliers”, and works closely with Millward Brown and TNS, as well as with smaller qualitative agencies such as The Nursery (which he describes as “fantastic”) to test creative work produced by Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH). BBH has been Barclays’ ad agency for the last five years and was responsible for its ‘fluent in finance’ positioning that some critics accused of alienating consumers with its abstract ideas.

Although Duffy believes that, “research is the most structured view of a customer you can get,” he provides a caveat: “I wouldn’t want research to be our only view of a customer. We enjoy our customer proximity work, which, whilst not methodologically rigorous, is very rich in terms of feedback.”

There are two recent demonstrations of the intrinsic value of customer feedback and research in action. One involved figuring out why queues were moving slowly in particular branches. The analysis concluded that, in branches where the population’s first language wasn’t English, the queue was more likely to crawl because counter transactions were slower. Similarly, if customers were asked to present identification and didn’t possess a British passport, the process inevitably slowed down.

“Those issues were driven out of a process which started with market research,” recalls Duffy. “We had a lot of behavioural research and overlying census data to understand local ethnicities, and qualitative work helped us to understand specific issues. We put 800 cashiers behind branch counters because we began to understand where we genuinely did have problems.”

Secondly, Barclays, with help from Stonewall, organised a series of seminars in major cities to understand how the Civil Partnership Act affects the financial arrangements of gay and lesbian couples. “It was fascinating,” reflects Duffy. “Top of their list of irritants was a presumption that customers are in a heterosexual relationship, and that’s just not the case. Some of the findings helped us to provide these customers with a service that they can respect”

As a result, Barclays was voted the Best Financial Institution by readers of the Pink Paper. Meanwhile, seminars which explain the financial rights of same-sex couples are still rolling out across the country in Barclays’ quest to be the ‘bank of choice’ for the gay and lesbian community.

Duffy is clearly an advocate of using insight to help enhance the customer experience, but he is also determined to use it as a way of explaining a particular issue to the business. “That drives a culture of improvement because we can say: ‘this is the issue and this is what’s caused it’.”

We know where you live
Barclays has a phenomenal customer database; a veritable goldmine of data. Just by virtue of being a bank, it already knows how much its customers earn and how they spend their money – information which, in itself, offers a rich seam of consumer insight. Duffy says: “There’s lots of analysis that can be derived from that data – we can profile customers to the nth degree, so we don’t have to ask consumers behavioural questions.” Instead, Barclays uses its market research agencies to find out consumer attitudes and to gain additional insight into broader consumer and environmental trends.

“It’s a matter of thinking about it in a more holistic way,” explains Duffy. “It’s very rare that a piece of market research will answer a particular problem from start to finish, so we overlay third party data. In the insight team, we’ve had a lot of success in getting environmental researchers, behavioural analysts and traditional market researchers working together.”

Vive la difference
He describes market research as an industry that’s “not without its challenges”, and elaborates: “By and large, quant agencies offer broadly similar solutions. It’s the consultancy which sits on top of that which begins to add the difference.”

Duffy describes the quality and talent of the Barclays team at Millward Brown as a “differentiator”. He adds: “Quantitative research can have a factory-type approach, but we buy into the consultancy skills of Jackie [Parkinson] and her team, and that’s what quant needs to build on as an industry.”

He believes that this is becoming more vital, particularly considering that the market research industry is undergoing so much consolidation. “We’ve had relationships with large agencies where the servicing model hasn’t been as robust as we’d have liked, and we have had to take action as a result. Agencies need to understand that they have to maintain the integrity of the client relationship when they rationalize.”

Despite having crystal clear views on the industry, he maintains: “I’m not massively interested in the market research industry; I’m interested in my team at Millward Brown and my team at Barclays, and how that talented group of individuals can drive change within this organization.”

Change is a big theme for Barclays right now. “Ideas are at the heart of our brand positioning, ” says Duffy. “We’re trying to say that our organization is about big and little things. For instance, a consumer might have a specific problem with their current account or their mortgage. If we come up with a great idea, it isn’t changing the world, but that customer will talk about what a fantastic experience they’ve had.”

First things first
In keeping with a trend pioneered by the Halifax – which starred the all-singing, all-dancing Howard as its cuddly front-man and boosted its number of current accounts in the process – Barclays asked its retail staff to volunteer why they were particularly passionate about what Barclays means for its customers. The result was the new campaign which champions staff as creative souls who think up ‘firsts’ for Barclays. It was the first bank to provide ATM machines and credit cards, and the first to have a female branch manager, so there is a time-honoured tradition to uphold.

Such ‘firsts’ give it some stand-out in the fiercely competitive financial services sector where the world and his wife is piling in. Consumers can now not only bank through high street banks, but opt for online-only services, and even plump for products like ISAs and insurance supplied by certain supermarkets. Duffy admits that one of the biggest challenges faced by his team is offering “genuine differentiation for the customer.”

Internally, he thinks that this requires “being sufficiently commercially driven that you get involved in a business decision to move forward the customer perspective.” And this means that skill-sets need to adapt. “Ten years ago, client-side market researchers would have been all about project management: making sure the brief got to the agency on time and structuring a presentation. Today, it’s all about the business problem and devising the right methodology. It’s much more consultancy-driven.”

He adds: “Maybe the organization will do something differently as a result of that customer perspective.” In other words, as he puts it: “It’s no longer acceptable to the person who just provides the data.”

Now there’s a thought.

Peter Duffy in 69 words
Peter Duffy’s career started at the TSB Bank which he joined as a management trainee in 1987. In 1993, he joined National Australia Group as marketing manager, and a year later, joined Barclays as group product manager – current accounts. Following a four-year stint, he became Barclays’ director – online banking in 1998. He became group insight director in 2003, with responsibility for groupwide market research. In 2005, he was promoted to marketing services director.

April | 2006