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Profile: Barclays' private bank boss on reshaping it for the 21st century

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Profile: Barclays' private bank boss on reshaping it for the 21st century

With noise levels reaching a crescendo two days before the European referendum, Barclays head of UK private banking Dena Brumpton is distinctly phlegmatic. 

‘The world is resilient and there’s not a lot we can do to it that will be so bad for mankind in the long-run, apart from perhaps environmental policies,’ Brumpton says.

‘A lot of people who are voting leave are voting for a new Europe [and] I think a lot of people voting remain are not doing so because they think the Union is the best thing that ever happened. Regardless of the outcome, it’s not going to be a huge majority either way, which means close to 50% of population unhappy with the result.’

Prophetic indeed, with the Brexiteers narrowly winning with 52% of voters in a shock result, sparking mayhem in markets. Barclays has since been trying to reassure clients the world is not coming to an end.  

Brumpton’s tone is refreshingly measured against the hysteria surrounding the Brexit. A no-nonsense pragmatic attitude can be traced back to her roots, which are somewhat atypical for a private banker.

‘I had a very untraditional entry into the financial services industry,’ she says. ‘I did not finish my formal education – I come from a family in North Wales with a strong work ethic but less educationally driven – it was really about getting out and earning living.’

 

So Brumpton set about earning a crust. She left school for a post in the accounts department of a local newspaper. There it became apparent to her qualifications were key.

‘I soon realised that being on the accountancy path when you’re not qualified wasn’t a great thing, so I reached out to Citibank and was accepted on their graduate training scheme.’

This marked the start of a beautiful relationship with Citi spanning three decades, involving a broad range of roles. Brumpton’s first assignment was in Jersey to work on Citi’s Sharia finance programme and soon after she was put in charge of the administration of the offshore funds business. Two years later, as a reward for her ‘bravado’, she was transferred to Tokyo for a role in asset management. 

This was followed by a spell in the company’s capital markets business. She was then made chief operating officer (COO) of the New York-based global and corporate investment bank just before the financial crisis struck in 2007. ‘It was a massively exciting time – here I was at this huge poster child for the banking industry in the US at possibly the most tumultuous time you could imagine.’

As the world was emerging from the crisis, Brumpton switched to wealth management, taking on the global COO role within Citi’s private bank. She joined the division in 2009 and helped rebuild the business after it sold Smith Barney to Morgan Stanley in a $13.5 billion (£10.4 billion) deal.

 

Six years later Brumpton finally got to the point where she was thinking of life beyond Citi. ‘I spent 30 years there and then one day I decided it was time to leave. It was really driven by a sense of achievement - we had grown the [private bank] every year since 2009. It was in great shape and I was thinking about what else I wanted to do with my career before I retire.’ 

Brumpton, who has two children with her equestrian professional husband and counts making jam among her hobbies, did not expect to take up a post with Barclays though, admitting when she left Citi she was looking at a ‘more plural career’.

A few weeks into her new life she met with Barclays Wealth chief Akshaya Bhargava, who had worked alongside Brumpton during his 22-year spell at Citi. He convinced her to return to the shop floor.

‘I thought it was a great way to extend my career by working for a UK bank in its own country, with so many areas poised for growth. It was not a decision I took lightly, but one I was convinced of easily.’

Brumpton took up her role as Barclays Wealth and Investment Management (W&IM) UK CEO in September 2015. This followed a major overhaul of Barclays’ wealth business under previous boss Peter Horrell, which resulted in around 100 private bankers being made redundant during the course of 2014. 

 

As part of this, the bank moved clients with less than £500,000 to a centralised investment team, meaning they lost access to a dedicated private banker.

‘There was some transitioning and resizing in 2014 and in 2015 we focused on getting the business where we would like it to be today,’ Brumpton explains. ‘By the time I joined it was in pretty good shape to provide the foundation for growth in the 21st century and meet our aspiration to be the number one participant in the wealth industry.’

But there was still plenty of work to do and Brumpton has introduced five ‘levers of growth’ designed to ‘transform’ the experience for Barclays’ clients.   

These included the repositioning of the brand. ‘I like to say we’ve been around since 1690 and that we’re a very innovative company that has longevity and a place in British banking society.’

Three key levers aim to ensure services are more suitably tailored to the needs of clients. These include a ‘huge’ initiative around segmentation. This is designed to put ‘personalised’ solutions in place and direct clients toward appropriate products. 

To help enable this, Brumpton has endeavoured to make the product platform more ‘robust’ so it is linked to the right segments, with client outcomes cross-referenced against the goals of the business. ‘It was about measuring our business in a much more disciplined way,’ she explains.

 

‘The lens I have introduced is to look at who our clients are and marry up our products and services and platform with their needs. That differs very much depending on what segment you’re in. We need to make sure we are relevant to clients at all stages of their journey, rather than having a single proposition. You can’t have a one size fits all – that would mean you underserve some clients and overserve others.’

So was Barclays failing on this front before her arrival? Brumpton does not admit as much, but acknowledges changes were needed.

‘We have everything from private banking and wealth planning propositions, to execution-only capabilities, alongside services for smaller businesses and corporate banking. I’m not sure we were leveraging all of the components to the right segments, so it’s more nuanced now. It’s all about aligning to client needs.’ 

Within this the message is loud and clear - suitability is key. Brumpton has no complaints about the wave of regulation implicit to this, which has overtaken the sector in recent years. 

‘It has certainly put a lot of new burdens on the wealth industry, but if you look beyond the written word and to what the legislation is trying to achieve, it makes absolute sense,’ she says. ‘Suitability is absolutely critical and I prefer to think of it as something that has not been driven by client outcomes, but the right client outcomes.’

 

The final lever is making sure Barclays attracts the right talent, which is significant given the streamlining of the business two years ago. ‘We want to grow talent with our wealth business and recruit the right people. We want to make sure people have great careers at Barclays.’

Ultimately Brumpton’s goal is to make Barclays private bank fit to serve clients in this brave new world for wealth management, where customers are far more technologically literate.

‘I’ve spent an awful lot of my time on this and clients want a completely different engagement. No longer is it about the wood-panelled office and shag-piled carpets, they want a much more vibrant model, one that is digitally savvy.  

‘We’ve got to recognise the world is changing, clients’ buying behaviour is different. We only have to look at our lives to see how we buy products and services now – it’s very different to 10 years ago. It would be remiss to think financial services won’t go in the same direction.’

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