Building a platform for business     

In this Q&A interview with Greg Barclay, keen cyclist and Head of International Wealth & Investment, Personal and Corporate Wealth, Standard Bank Offshore Group, the Channel Islands-based native South African talks about the Group’s collaboration plans with Salesforce, in conjunction with Microsoft and AWS, to move to being a cloud-based platform business that offers diverse services easily and quickly.

Question: Q1. Please briefly describe your career trajectory and interests?

Answer: A1. I grew up in Durban on the East Coast of South Africa. In 1991 I completed my National Service in the South African Navy and soon after joined Standard Bank Group in Durban on a training programme.

I started out as waste clerk before moving on to Standard Bank’s branch networks across Kwa Zulu Natal and Gauteng, undertaking vehicle & asset finance and structured finance duties. In 1999 I joined Citibank in Johannesburg, which started my appetite and exposure to global banking. In 2003, I joined Barclays Africa working across Sub-Saharan Africa. I am a person who is motivated by learning and have completed studies in business and financial management part-time. I also have a Postgraduate Diploma in Banking and have completed various leadership programmes particularly to gain exposure to emerging markets.

I came home in 2007 to Standard Bank, joining the Africa Regions team focused on lending solutions. Three years later I relocated with my wife, Vicky and two children, on a secondment to Stanbic Uganda where I headed up the Business Banking Division. After this I joined the Standard Bank Offshore Group taking on responsibility for the international Personal Banking business. I moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands in 2018 to take up a broader leadership role, covering all business segments as Head of International Wealth & Investment, Personal and Corporate Wealth.

To unwind and get away from the hustle and bustle of city centres and the corporate world, I like hiking. My favourite places when I return home on visits is to be in one of South Africa’s game reserves, specifically the Madikwe Game Reserve and the Drakensburg mountain ranges. It allows me to relax and recharge.

Q2. Please tell me about your company and its platformization plans?

A2. Standard Bank Group is the largest African bank by assets with a unique footprint across 20 African countries. Headquartered and listed in Johannesburg, it has a 158-year history in South Africa and started building a franchise outside southern Africa in the early 1990s. Our vision is to be the leading financial services (FS) organisation in, for and across Africa. The group has just over 50,000 employees and 1,000 branches, which enable it to deliver a complete range of services across personal and business banking, corporate and investment banking, and wealth management.

The part of the organisation I represent, Standard Bank Offshore Group, provides FS to people and businesses. It supports Africa’s growth by connecting the continent with international markets. Our offices in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Mauritius, with representative offices in London and South Africa, offers solutions in banking, investing and fiduciary trusts and so on.

We have big plans. Not least a new Group collaboration with Salesforce towards becoming a platform business. In conjunction with the complementary cloud capabilities of Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS), they will power the imminent new Standard Bank Group Digital Platform.

As our Group Chief Executive, Sim Tshabalala, says: “The agreement is a major step towards transforming the Standard Bank Group into a client-centered platform business that delivers a range of individualised, instantly available solutions, services and opportunities, enabled by modern digital technologies, and delivered in whatever way a client prefers. Our goal is to use our data capabilities to build deeper, better and more enduring relationships with our clients.”

The capabilities of Salesforce will enable the bank to build partnerships with vendors, fintechs and service providers to co-create customised solutions for its clients, and to access other services brought to the group’s ecosystem. We want to provide both our own services and the services of our partners. Another way of saying it is that we don’t just want to be the shop, we want to be the mall.

Technology advancements have developed exponentially in the last decade influenced by the neobanks and fintechs. There is a new dawn in FS as organisations move away from traditional bank operating models towards that of digital data-rich platforms. I think it will be the biggest, and most exciting, change I’ll experience in my career.

Q3. What do you see as the key leadership skills required in your job & what advice do you have for newcomers?

A3. For me, the measure of a true leader, is how they grow and challenge the people around them – leading by example is what counts. Effective leaders encourage and help those around them to reach their full potential.

Being proactive and staying ahead, rather than reacting, is also key, as is the ability to make informed decisions. Having the humility and confidence to acknowledge where things could be done better or revisit a previous way of doing things is also vital to strong stewardship.

My tip to a newcomer in a senior role would be to have patience. It takes time to understand the dynamics within a new team, the operating model and environments that the business operates in, so wait before making any big changes. Bring your colleagues along with you, listen and learn from their insight and experience, rather than seeking to rule or dictate. Most importantly, enjoy what you do.

Q4. What challenges is your company & sector facing?

A4. I think there are many traditional challenges, such as regulatory changes, cost and infrastructure concerns, even fintech-driven competition now, which all companies face. But the biggest challenge is simply the pace of change. Successful firms will be the ones that can embrace fast change and harness the opportunities via the adoption of agile methodologies and processes.

Then, there is the unprecedented challenge of Covid-19 of course. Transiting staff to work from home in a very short space of time this year was hard. We had to ensure staff had the right equipment, connectivity, access to systems, and what they needed to minimise the impact on our service to clients. various digital initiatives had to be fast tracked to maintain client expectations and service levels. A number of lessons have been learnt:

  • A positive impact for staff was our flexible working arrangements: they liked them.
  • The way we manage performance, moving away from input measurement to a more balanced approach including outputs is beneficial in the long-term.
  • We are now confident we can deliver change efficiently and effectively at pace, which as I mentioned previously is a challenge we all face in today’s world.

From a client perspective the biggest change we had to make was to quickly adapt how we engaged. Since Covid-19 we’ve had to pivot away from hosting physical events and face-to-face meetings towards engaging with clients virtually. Hosting webinars and interactive events, such as cooking along with a two-star Michelin chef, have kept clients happy and engaged.

Q5. Anything you’d like to add or stress?

A5. Only that I’d like to dispel the myth that international banking is only for high net worth individuals (HNWIs), or exclusive in some way. At Standard Bank Offshore Group, we aim to offer an appropriate offshore proposition that meets the goals and aspirations of our clients. Diversification of current and future wealth is available to all our clients.

Personally, I do hope that someday governments across the world can put personal agendas and egos aside for the good of developing a globally integrated world that provides growth and development opportunities for all countries.

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