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What Uber taught Barclays about agile development

  • When the innovators want to innovate faster, legal and regulation departments are still tell them no
  • Barclays is taking what Uber taught it about agile development and applying it as it expands into other digital banking products
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What Uber taught Barclays about agile development

At Barclays, piloting a new product even if it’s only 70 percent ready is generally better than waiting for it to get to 90 percent.

“If you’re waiting for 90 or 95, you’re probably guessing that you got it right, and you’re probably spending a lot of money, time and precious resources hoping you got it right,” said Paul Wilmore, chief marketing officer of Barclays’ U.S. business, at Tearsheet’s Hot Topic: Mobile Payments conference Thursday morning.

Barclays, better know in the U.S. as Barclaycard, is going through a rebranding as it expands its business beyond credit cards and savings accounts — which have been the bulk of the digital-only bank since it came to the U.S. in 2004 — and prepares to launch online personal loans next year. Being a credit card issuer, for the most part, its brand has lived in the background of its card partner in the US, which include the National Football League, JetBlue and, most recently, Uber. As it builds out its bank offerings (the company recently hinted it might introduce a digital investment service down the road), it’s learning the value of agile product development.

Partnerships have a great effect on the bank’s learning process, Wilmore said. For Barclays, partnering with a brand on a credit card and getting it to market generally takes about a year, he said. Uber, with whom Barclays launched a co-branded credit card last month, has helped push the Barclays team out of that mindset.

“We go to pitch Uber… and they said, ‘we want to launch in six months,’” Wilmore recalled of the initial stages of the partnership. “We said, ‘that’s really ambitious,’ we gave all the caveats we could. The guy that led the program stood up and said ‘look, we don’t have one project here at Uber that goes more than six months.’”

Uber needed to get board approval to allow the Barclays project to go as long as seven months — which is “phenomenal” for a bank to hear by Wilmore’s account: “It gives you some sense of the speed of development of where they want to go. It was absolutely unbelievable.”

He also said moving at such speed is something the bank hopes to apply to the rollout of its bank products. Though he’d rather move faster and pilot a product with a small group every time, he said, the reality is there’s a lot of product control at a bank.

If the pilot is contained, however — if he can convince people that all he wants to do is a pilot on no more than 100 people, who could be employees — the risk is minimal and his ability to get it past “the gauntlet of regulation and legal” is easier.

“I’ve got a million people telling me ‘no,’” Wilmore said. “I still need to go through all those gauntlets to actually bring it to commercialization but that’s fine because then I’ve learned a lot and I can actually determine if it’s worth the investment to commercialize something or not.”

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