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Barclays and Coutts make a statement with plans for mobile video banking

Published:Wednesday | December 10, 2014 | 12:00 AMBy Martin Arnold in London, Source
File A view of Barclays headquarters at London's Canary Wharf financial district, July 3, 2012.

British banks are entering the age of mobile video. Barclays and Coutts have both announced plans for video banking services that will allow their customers to see and talk to advisers over their mobile devices.

Coutts, the UK's biggest private bank and a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Scotland, announced that it would launch a pilot "video conference" service to allow clients to call their adviser through their mobile device.

If successful, Coutts said it would roll out the service to all its 72,000 customers. Barclays confirmed a report in the Financial Times that it planned to allow its customers to "see" an adviser at any time, seven days a week, by using an application similar to Skype or FaceTime on their mobile devices.

While several European banks are working on similar services, Barclays is confident it will be the first in the region to launch a full mobile video banking operation. The moves mark another advance in the digitisation of high street banking, which has led to a sharp drop in people visiting branches.

Some banks have launched video services for customers to use from a branch or an ATM. But apart from a few lenders in India, such as ICICI, very few have launched 24/7 mobile video services that allow clients to see an adviser from anywhere and at any time.

The Barclays service, which could fuel fears of more bank branch closures, will initially be offered only to its premier

customers from December 8.

The bank plans to offer it to its mortgage, business and wealth management customers from early next year and to all its retail customers in a round-the-clock service by the end of 2015.

"We're trying to give customers a choice of when, where and how they bank with us but with the added comfort of a human face," said Steven Cooper, chief executive of

personal banking at Barclays.

He said the bank had invested tens of millions of pounds in the service, which will initially be operated by about 50 staff in a video call-centre in Sunderland. "We will have fewer branches, but the branch network will always exist and this is just about developing extra services on top of it to complement the branches."

He added that the service would allow customers using sign language to communicate with the bank and could provide an alternative where the bank has closed a branch in an area. Julian Skan, managing director at Accenture for the banking industry in Europe, Africa and Latin America, said: "There are several similar things in the pipeline at other banks, but this will be the first to be operational in Europe.

"It will create a splash and convince some people to switch banks, but I'm not convinced that video will become the dominant format for interacting with banks," said Mr Skan.

"The danger is that if a two-way video conversation does not work perfectly, the user will become frustrated."

Mr Cooper was confident the system was "pretty resilient", adding that it worked "pretty well" with a 3G signal and "very well" over a Wi-Fi connection.

(c) The Financial Times Limited 2014