The Big Interview: Stuart Brown, head of branch and business banking in Scotland, Barclays
Stuart Brown is head of branch and business banking in Scotland for Barclays.
He joined the lender in 2015 as head of SME banking for Scotland and Northern Ireland, having previously spent more than two decades at Bank of Scotland.
Your appointment to your current post marks the first time the bank has had a senior lead for its retail operation based in Scotland. Can you explain what your role entails?
Barclays has had operations in Scotland for more than 30 years and the creation of this position was a natural progression. My role is to oversee our branch and business banking operations, which include 180 colleagues supporting our personal and SME clients with their needs as well as supporting the communities we operate in. Our focus is not only meeting our customers’ transactional needs but also adding value with broader services and advice.
One example would be to help them adapt to the ever-changing digital, and now increasingly remote, working environment. We also guide people in making educated decisions about their personal and business financial needs and use our networks and expertise to help them develop the skills and contacts they require to run successful businesses.
What challenges has Covid placed on both Barclays and the firms it works with – how is Barclays supporting them through the pandemic and beyond?
Covid has had a material impact on all our lives. We have moved more than 70,000 colleagues to home working while continuing to help millions of customers to process transactions, access finance, and help them through financial difficulty. At the same time, we have been delivering on the government-backed lending schemes and have facilitated more than £24 billion of funding across these schemes. None of this has been easy, but we are very proud of the way in which our colleagues, with the right support, have risen to meet this challenge.
In our personal banking division, we have focused on helping people understand the digital options and alternative ways to bank that are available to make their life easier as well as helping them with their financial concerns and management. We have increased our video appointment capability for remote appointments and assisted with bank accounts for new workers into the NHS. Additionally, we are delivering our LifeSkills programmes to help not only young people but adults across a wide range of support needs from skills for employment to wellbeing.
LifeSkills is our flagship employability programme, which focuses on giving people the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to succeed in work. More than 11 million people have participated across the UK and we recently announced a number of new charity partnerships to help tackle key issues facing the Scottish and UK labour markets and support groups and individuals most in need during the Covid-19 outbreak.
In Scotland this includes teaming up with social enterprise The Wise Group, which will be working with us on a one-year programme in Kilmarnock to deliver LifeSkills resources to people including the long-term unemployed, lone parents and individuals with prior convictions.
In business banking, we have obviously been involved in helping customers access the government loans schemes as well as short-term financial support and signposting to other government help. We introduced our Back to Business programme, designed in partnership with the Cambridge Judge Business School, helping all SMEs (not just clients) to analyse their business and consider their strategic options, include opportunities to diversify, in the current environment.
Our partnership with the Nextdoor neighbourhood hub app also provides free access for businesses so they can highlight their offering to their local marketplaces. All this is delivered by the local relationship managers we have in our communities who are passionate about helping businesses through the pandemic.
You have spearheaded Barclays’ investment in Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, including opening Eagle Labs in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Can you explain more about this and other similar initiatives?
I have always been passionate about seeing business ideas come to fruition and then capitalising on the opportunities they generate. For entrepreneurs this can be challenging, operating with limited resources at the start and then having to learn new skills along the way. I have always endeavoured to share my knowledge and experience with entrepreneurs and introduce them to others who can assist them, whether that be as a strategic partner, customer, supplier or investor.
Around four years ago, Barclays invested in specialist high-growth managers to help this segment of the market – which was music to my ears. This was then followed up by the development of Eagle Labs, where the focus is to help accelerate UK scale-ups, promote collaboration across the entire ecosystem and enable access to and training on new and emerging technologies.
Our reach is wider than our physical labs and we have a network of start-ups and scale-ups, mentors, partners and experts who can help small businesses achieve their business ambitions. In addition to this we have industry focus for lawtech, healthtech, agritech, energytech and gametech including E-sports.
It was recognised that Scotland has a fantastic entrepreneurial ecosystem and so we were able to establish the first Scottish Eagle Labs in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, working with great partners in the form of CodeBase and Opportunity North East. It is so exciting to be able to provide this support.
Scotland has also been the source of some great initiatives to support female entrepreneurs including the Female Founders Forum set up in partnership with the Entrepreneurs Network and our relationship with the AccelerateHER programme, run by Scottish-based Investing Women, through which we offer specialist mentoring to promising female-led companies. We are also a strong supporter of social enterprises and employee ownership, which are increasingly prevalent and important in our communities.
Can you give more details on the Thriving Local Economies pilot in Kilmarnock, where Barclays has joined forces with local leaders?
Thriving Local Economies is a pilot economic growth initiative for smaller towns, taking place in four locations across the UK. It brings Barclays together with local authorities, educators and like-minded organisations to help the communities be the best they can be. We support the partners in the locations with independent research on specific challenges in the area and then develop bespoke programmes to help the economy grow.
I was proud to be asked to lead the Kilmarnock pilot having already seen the challenges faced following the closure of the Johnnie Walker factory and the vision of East Ayrshire Council, Marie Macklin of Halo, and members of the community to recover.
We have already initiated an ongoing programme of support in the secondary schools through specially designed LifeSkills programmes to help pupils develop skills for the workforce as well as a support programme for adults to support employability.
Business support will also be key, helping start-up businesses in the town as well as scaling up of existing businesses and digital skills enhancement. This will all be delivered in conjunction with the council, Ayrshire College, Halo and other local organisations. The Halo Enterprise & Innovation Centre next to the college will be a fantastic place to see businesses, ideas and skills flourish.
We are also engaging with charities and social enterprises in the area to support their great work and help where we can with wellbeing in the community. A large number of our colleagues work in Glasgow but live in or near Kilmarnock and want to help wherever they can.
Can you summarise your career leading up to your current role – including how you got into financial services and the most pivotal moment to date?
I have been in banking for 33 years starting in Fraserburgh and moving onto Aberdeen and Edinburgh with regular visits to London. I joined straight from school with an interest in numbers but deciding to join a bank rather than go to university. I have had a varied career across retail, business and corporate banking, from teller and tea boy through to supporting corporate mergers and acquisitions and then onto my current role, leading a team of 180 colleagues to support an increasing number of clients across Scotland.
How is Brexit going to affect the business and what measures are you planning to take?
Barclays is fully prepared for any Brexit scenario. Barclays Bank Ireland, our central hub for EU activities and all its European branches were fully set up last year and have been operational since as we continue to ensure seamless access for our clients.
Our team of relationship managers has also been reaching out to our clients to ask them about preparedness for Brexit, whatever the scenario. We plan to host more Brexit clinics ahead of the end of the year.
What are the chief business goals and aims over the coming year, and beyond?
Over the coming year it has to be about supporting our customers and communities through the challenges of the pandemic. In the form of financial support but also quite extensively adapting to change and ensuring their wellbeing. Barclays has Scottish roots – our founder James Barclay’s family lived near Aberdeen – and a very clear commitment to Scotland. I am keen to ensure that we support the Scottish communities we work in and increase the number of customers benefiting from both our service offering and the added value support we can also provide.
It is also massively exciting to see progress on our Glasgow Campus, which will be completed over the next 18 months, bringing new jobs and regenerating a previously underdeveloped area of the city.
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