Barclays Goes All-In With 8,500 iPads For Frontline Branch Staff

One of the world’s largest banks is giving 8,500 employees an early Christmas present: iPads. According to Barclays, they will be used as sales tools “to assist branch colleagues to interact with customers, improving the customer experience.”

With approximately 1,700 branches in the UK, that works out to an average of about five iPads per branch.

Barclays says the primary purpose for the iPads is to deploy an app dubbed Mortgage Brain, a tool specifically designed to help brokers and agents source the best loans in the shortest possible time. The app is designed for use by loan reps during the initial point-of-sale process, enabling them to conduct a quick and thorough market-wide mortgage search-and-selection process for their customers. Information on prospects cab also be collected as part of the sales interaction.

Scheduled for its official launch at the turn of the year, the app also features a number of mortgage calculators and a new graphing and analysis tool.

In a level of collaboration seldom seen in the financial industry, the Mortgage Brain app resulted from the partnership between six of the UK’s biggest banks: Barclays, RBS, Virgin Money, Santander, Lloyds TSB and Nationwide. Collectively, these banking behemoths account for more than 65% of the UK mortgage market.

Why This is Such a Big Deal

Barclays spent a chunk of change to make this happen. Estimates for 8,500 iPads range from £2 million on the low end (US$3.2 million), all the way up to £4.07 million (US$6.5 million).

Then you have to add in the internal IT, maintenance and staff training costs. ZDNet analyst Matt Baxter-Reynolds puts the training budget at around £1 million. That’s about $187.50 in USD per employee. According to Baxter-Reynolds, Barclays’ total cost of ownership for 8,500 iPads works out to approximately £13.8 million, or $2,600 USD per unit.

“This isn’t just an iPad rollout. It’s a full-blown infrastructure blast.”
— Zack Whittaker,
ZDNet Analyst

Why does Barclays think the investment is worth it?

“As a consumer, when you go to a bank and you have a meeting with someone you end up talking to the back of their monitor,” says Barclays retail COO Shaygan Kheradpir. “Wouldn’t it be nice to talk to someone just holding a tablet?”

Technology enthusiasts — particularly Apple fans — are heralding Barclays’ mammoth iPad deal as a signal that the world’s most popular tablet is ready to take on a more serious corporate role. No longer seen as just a consumer gadget for lite browsing and Angry Birds, the iPad now seems poised to completely transform the retail experience across many industries, including financial services.

“You don’t go investing
in a new sales tool
for 8,500 frontline staff
unless you think
branches have a clear
and vital role.”

For banking execs, however, Barclays decision says as much about the future of branches as it does today’s tech. Financial industry observers could easily find themselves distracted by talk of tablets and apps, while completely missing the larger — and yet unstated — strategic significance behind Barclays’ move: the bank is clearly committed to the brick-and-mortar channel. You don’t go investing in a new sales tool for 8,500 frontline branch staff unless you think branches have a clear and vital role.

And there is probably a lot more in the works for Barclays’ iPads beyond just the Mortgage Brain app. It’s such a big investment, as Zack Whittaker, an analyst with ZDNet, pointed out, that Barclays undoubtedly has grander iPlans.

“Almost no company — despite Barclay’s vast wealth — would order 8,500 iPads for one application, no matter how good it is,” Whittaker noted. “It’s likely that the tablet rollout is part of a wider strategy set to be employed in the coming IT spending cycles.”

Keep your eyes peeled. Soon every Barclays employee could be armed with a full-featured iPad sales and service tablet.

Were iPads the Best Choice?

Barclays huge iPad roll out follows beta-testing by senior Barclays staff in 2011, and a limited pilot with a handful of employees earlier this year.

A Barclays spokesperson said after the initial trials, bank employees unequivocally voted for iPads over other tablet options (most notably the new Windows 8 Surface tablet and Google’s Android OS).

“We needed a solution to assist our branch colleagues to interact with customers,” a Barclays spokesperson said in a statement. “So we investigated a number of different tablet options, whilst also listening to colleague and customer feedback, and in this instance, we concluded that iPads were the best solution for their specific needs.”

Barclays retail COO Shaygan Kheradpir said “the instant-on functionality of [iPad] tablet devices, and the high fidelity cameras that the iPad 2 in particular includes” also played a significant factor in their decision to choose Apple’s platform over other options.

Security, of course, was a major concern.

“With the lockdown offered on iOS devices — including encrypted content — iPads have all the things that reassure the ‘necessarily-paranoid’ in any bank’s IT department,” wrote Charles Arthur in the Guardian UK, commenting on Barclays’ decision to go with iPads.

Zack Whittaker at ZDNet agrees, saying Barclays confidence in IPad safeguards sets a trend for other companies, particularly banks. “The huge iPad deployment shows a significant level of trust in the Apple platform — that it’s secure enough for banking,” Whittaker wrote in his analysis. “Finance, after all, is only one-notch below national security in the grand scheme of data protection priorities.”

Barclays has also deployed MobileIron as its “mobile device management” platform (MDM). This software system helps the bank keep track of where each iPad is and limit what online/wireless networks they are allowed to use. Thanks to GPS features built-in to the iPad, Barclays can use MobileIron to locate any iPads that go “missing,” or completely kill them if they are indeed stolen. MobileIron also allows Barclays to control what apps employees can download and install. The Guardian’s Charles Arthur estimates Barclays is budgeting around £2 (or USD $3) per month per device for MDM, or £200,000 ($320,000) per year.

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