Speaking at London Tech Week, Barclays UK CEO Ashok Vaswani said AI has the potential to bring banks closer to customers, but warned mistakes could be costly

Barclays Bank

Barclays Bank - Håkan Dahlström - Flickr

Barclays boss Ashok Vaswani has heralded the potential impact for artificial intelligence in financial services, but warned that banks “can’t afford” to get things wrong when it comes to implementing the technology.

The UK CEO and global head of consumer banking and payments identified his own organisation’s “charter”, which has been drawn up to guide how it will approach integrating the technology into everyday services, and is as much about setting out what the bank won’t do as what it will.

Mr Vaswani was speaking today at the TechXLR8 AI Summit at London Tech Week, and gave some insight into how he envisions the way AI will change Barclays’ relationship with its customers.

He said: “Every single one of us has different hopes and aspirations. Every one of us want to try and get ahead, and every one of us defines what ‘getting ahead’ means in a different way.

“Since we all have different hopes and aspirations, and require different levels of comfort, support and confidence to get there, it’s something very personalised and unique.

“And because we’re talking about an institution that deals with 24 million customers in the UK, and another 15 million in the US, we need the support of technology to help us get to that level of personalisation.”


Barclays UK CEO Ashok Vaswani says AI mistakes could ‘undermine’ efforts to get closer to customers

But despite the potential for AI to bring Barclays and its customers closer together through more personalised products and services, Mr Vaswani remains cautious about taking a misguided approach in its implementation.

He revealed that Barclays has a lot of effort into drawing up a charter it hopes will prevent it from mistakes that could cause harm to the customer, and “undermine the entire effort, the greater good”.

ashok vaswani barclays
Barclays boss Ashok Vaswani, speaking at TechXLR8 in London

He said: “We spent a lot of time putting up a charter – it says we will not take customer data and sell it to hedge funds, or an advertising agency.

“We will only use customer data when it benefits the customer – the benefit must be felt by the customer.

“It must be something that is honourable, explainable and transparent.

“That’s why we put together the charter before getting started. It may slow us down, but it is really important.

“We can’t afford one mistake – it would undermine the entire effort, the greater good.

“I’m spending my personal time on this – I’m not a technology guru, I’m not a nerd, I don’t understand the sciences – but I do understand the importance of getting this right.”


Barclays UK CEO Ashok Vaswani on Brexit

Mr Vaswani also discussed the future of UK financial services and the need banks – and the wider industry – to reassess its place in the global marketplace and find a new “competitive advantage”.

He said: “We are a very old citizen of the UK. Barclays is 328 years old in this country – older than the Bank of England. Our roots are here, this is our home.

“When you think about what’s happening to our country, and what the country needs to do to define its competitive position, this becomes a very interesting debate.

Whatever happens with Brexit – whether it is hard or soft exit, a deal or no-deal – there is some level of rupturing of relationships with the EU, and we in the UK will have to define our competitive advantage.”

One of Barclays’ approaches to this problem has been its Eagle Labs scheme – in which underused branches across the country are transformed into community innovation hubs to help local businesses in their digital transformation efforts.

There are currently 24 of these locations in the UK, working with more than 470 businesses – and Mr Vaswani believes that by “tweaking” the Eagle Labs to develop expertise in specific areas – such as law, agriculture, AI, avionics and regulation – Barclays can help to create a new competitive advantage for UK industry.