This week I attended Microsoft's Business Transformation event in London and had the opportunity to sit down with Daren Foulds, Barclays' managing director of mobile banking and Pingit – the bank's mobile payment solution, which has experienced a lot of success in the UK since its launch two years ago. With over half a billion £ having gone through Pingit to date and with more than 2.8 million downloads I was keen to find out more about the application and Barclays' story behind it. However, although that story is interesting (and one I will post at a later date), I was more interested to hear how Barclays is proactively taking on the challenge of getting more people online.
Stuart wrote about this recently when the UK government launched its own digital skills charter, which aims to reduce the number of people who are offline by 25% by 2016, bringing 2.7 million more people online in the next two years and then reducing the proportion of people who are offline by a further 25 percent every two years after that. This is central to the government's priorities, given that it is shifting a lot of its transactions online. It is also important given that a lot of the services that will be moved online – such as Universal Credit – are critical to those most vulnerable in society, who are also the ones more likely to be 'digitally excluded'.
This isn't just a problem for the UK, with the internet now classified as a basic human right by the UN, digital nations across the globe are having to think about how they can give those confidence, or access, to online services – even if they may not initially want to be online.
The UK government's skills charter recognised the fact that the public sector cannot get all parts of society online itself and that it will rely heavily on the third and private sectors. However, as Stuart rightly notes, even if all the good intentions are there, the private sector efforts to date haven't exactly been ground-breaking. I often put this down to there being little incentive for companies to put a lot of effort into this – however, after my chat with Foulds from Barclays I think I was completely wrong. There is a huge incentive for companies to get more people online – the more people online using your digital products, the more sales, revenues, etc.
However, this is never going to work by shoving digital products down the throats of citizens that don't have the confidence to use them (and yes there are people simply without access too, but I'm not entirely sure what companies like Barclays can do about broadband infrastructure). And this is what surprised me about Barclays' approach to digital inclusion, it isn't about getting people online to use mobile banking or Pingit – they just want to get people online, for whatever services they need, with the view that somewhere down the line if their confidence is built up, then they may end up using a digital Barclays service (which is highly likely given the nature of the bank's dominance in the financial industry).
The Digital EaglesFoulds said that the biggest external hurdle to getting products off the ground is building consumer confidence and trust, which comes hand in hand with the challenges around digital inclusion. He said:
“The two things that we said we wouldn't compromise when we set out on this journey were customer experience and security. Balancing those two things, there's always challenges in there.”
In order to overcome this Barclays has invested heavily in enabling its own employees, where it has now trained up 6,500 'Digital Eagles', who work in the bank branches across the UK. The 'Eagles' brand stemming from the Barclays eagle on its logo. These Digital Eagles are employees that have put themselves forward and are tasked to not only help Barclays customers that come into the branches and express an interest in its digital products, but also to go into the communities in which they operate and help citizens get online and help them become digitally active.
“It may not be Barclays products that they help people with – they have gone out to help people understand what the benefits of being digital are. Be that the convenience of online shopping, Skype in terms of communicating with relatives that they haven't seen in a long time, and actually what we are finding is that there is a huge opportunity to help not just consumers but businesses understand the potential of digital. We are really trying to drive this.”
When I asked Foulds whether or not he saw this as the government's responsibility, rather than that of the private sector, he completely disagreed. He argues that companies need to recognise that there is a long-term benefit to them in getting people online. He said:
“I think [bridging this digital divide] comes from business actually [not government]. To be brutally frank if we get one customer online using Skype, we don't really care if it is Skype or it's some other service, as long as they become digitally engaged. Because once they become digitally engaged their adoption for other things will follow.
“What we find is that they come back and ask for the next thing – but what you can't do is educate someone how to be digital across everything. You need to find what the problem cases that they have got and help them to understand how digital will solve that, then give them the confidence to then use other services.”
- I must admit that I was quite impressed by this initiative. Although there are some questions still remaining – I didn't get time to ask Foulds how any of this is quantified, or how it is measured – I can't help but think that this is the route by which we are going to get people online. Rather than another government charter that tries to sell the benefits of claiming welfare online.
- Foulds is right, building confidence in communities to use digital products will come far more quickly if it is done by finding problem cases and showing people how digital can solve those problems. Hopefully from there they will become more adventurous and start using other services.
- It's also good to see a company looking at the big picture – get people online and you have far more chance of them using your digital services at some point down the line, instead of forcing things down their throat.