by Mark Chillingworth

Barclaycard CIO creates startup environment for fast change

May 21, 20155 mins
Financial Services IndustryIT Leadership

To make a large business think like a startup, creating the same environment as found in challenger businesses will foster that change in atmosphere. Northampton may not be attracting the same startup buzz as Manchester, Silicon Valley or the hype, beards, coffee and bicycle culture of Shoreditch in London, but to Barclaycard it is a critical operating hub and the credit card arm of the banking giant Barclays decided to bring a bit of the Valley to town once famous for its shoe making.

Roy Aston has been CIO of Barclaycard Europe since 2013 and late last year created an entirely new floor at the organisation’s headquarters that is a direct juxtaposition from the traditional corporate environment across the lobby. Aston’s pine wood, bright colours, giant white boards and rainbow of post-it notes is a loft style office.

“People have learnt ways of delivering over many years. So we are spending a lot of time with coaching and bringing in network groups,” Aston says at one of the stand up tables of the culture change that the startup office environment is just part of.

Aston explains that having joined Barclaycard in April 2013 he saw a wide range of transformations taking place across the organisation but what the bank hadn’t succeeded in scaling these transformations across the entire business. He felt that Barclaycard needed an environment to create greater collaboration and with a heritage in challenger banking, Aston knew that Barclaycard needed to increase the pace and impact of these transformations.

“I started at Internet startup banks at Egg. The learning’s from that experience was the customer focus and getting the right delivery. Also to fail fast and learn from that,” Aston says. He describes the main difference at Barclaycard being the scale of the organisation.

“Our transition is how do we drive new speed and new partnerships and how do we begin to think differently about financial services.”

Barclaycardis a “strategic line” of the behemoth Barclays banking group, Aston says.

Aston bases himself at Northampton too as he believes it is important that he is seen and how important the transformations are that are being developed in the new lab environment. Aston works closely with the COO of Barclaycard Ian Buchanan, himself a former CIO.

“Support for this programme from the COO was key for leader engagement across the business as you have to have complete alignment to make it successful,” Aston says.

Aston has 200 people in his team supporting the technology and transformation of Barclaycard Europe. “We also hook into a bigger set of resources at Barclays and can consume up to 1000 staff,” he says.

Payment is the area of financial services under going the most serious disruption, from initial challenger Paypal to the recent launches of ApplePay and Bitcoin. Businesses and consumers have a plethora of choices open to them that are not traditional banks. For organisations like Barclaycard it’s a major challenge to a once fairly secure market. Aston says the organisation is not worried and instead chooses to focus on how it can succeed in a far more diverse and competitive marketplace.

“You look at Pingit, Barclays is an innovative organisation and we have an innovation heritage. So now it is about how can we accelerate the speed of delivery? The development and processes have to make change quickly and that helps you succeed,” he says.

“This is the start of a journey for us. Northampton is a hub and there is more to do to build out from here,” he says of how the main operating base of Barclaycard has begun a change in its culture that will spread across the European business. During CIO UK’s visit a few minutes in reception demonstrated how European and important this hub is as every accent from the Mediterranean to the Baltic entered or left business meetings. Changing the culture, as ever, was not an overnight implementation.

“The change curve that people go on is significant and we spent a lot of time with colleagues communicating the business change and its impact. That is important to everyone,” Aston says. He brought the communications team of Barclaycard into the project to broadcast the aims.

Online services form a major part of the projects the new agile development teams are working with. A key partner for Barclaycard is Thoughtworks, the web development business that counts.

“Technology is at the heart of what we do and is now a core part of our customer experience.

“We are investing a lot in our technology at the moment as we can see there is a lot of growth that our team can drive. Capgemini and Thoughtworks are big partners and we are looking how we can engage with a different set of partners too,” he says of the need to look beyond transitional technology suppliers.

“Thoughtworks have helped with the culture shift to Agile and we see them as a partner that can help with the journey to Agile and that is good for our engineers.”

As consumption behaviour continues to change, so too will payment methods, so it will be interesting to see if Barclaycard can keep pace as a result of Aston’s strategy.

Roy Aston CV

April 2013 – present, Barclaycard CIO June 2011 – April 2013, Citi Director of Business and Technology Transformation