Call me an old sentimental type, but I’m really well disposed to Barclays.
As a former customer and employee I view their current misfortunes with a degree of sympathy. OK that was a student job at the Aldridge branch in the dawn of pre-history when bank managers exuded prudence, integrity, and maybe a whiff of Old Spice.
So it was very disappointing to look at their digital history (the stuff they put on the web to tell people about Barclays’ past).
What do you get?
A timeline which has all the interactive strength of a cornflakes recipe
An invitation to their archives in Wythenshaw that is as appealing as wet facecloth wrapped around a brick. The message is “keep out”
So nothing on the website about Barclays’ origins as a Quaker (Society of Friends) bank? Er… no. You’ll have to go elsewhere such as this good piece from banking historian Richard Saville.
He cites the view of Barclays’ founder John Freame that the current (as in 1690) generation had a duty to instill sound values in the next: “To implant in (young) minds a sense of piety and virtue, and to train them up in the best things. This would prove more advantageous to children than getting a great deal of riches for them.”
Unfortunately all you really find on Barclays’ website is achingly glib marketing speak.
Others do it much better. The Lloyds group has had its problems – after all its recent mergers, it’s still not sure if its home is Halifax, London or Edinburgh.
But it knows what its history is and does an excellent job of telling it. The Museum on the Mound is superb (the result of strong collaboration with others but not the sort which fiddles interest rates for a bottle of Bolly).
It has another museum at Ruthwell near Dumfries where the Reverend Henry Duncan opened the world’s first savings bank.
Both museums actively engage with the wider community – particularly young people. And if you visit the Lloyds website they actually welcome you and try to help. Blimey!
Am I being too unfair on Barclays? Perhaps. We don’t yet know what UK and US authorities will uncover about RBS, HSBC and UBS. Digital history is not the be all, end all – but it’s maybe a start.
Having good historical content, particularly if accessible on a website, give employees and customers a clear indication that morality and integrity have played some part in shaping your corporate culture and values.
Severing that connection with the past, or just ignoring it, leaves licence to do other things. Like playing lottery on the Libor with other people’s money.
As historian and Congressional librarian Daniel Boorstin once said– planning for the future without a sense of history is like planting cut flowers and hoping for the best.
Barclays might now rue the day they didn’t bank on that.