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BT Wi-fi puts Barclays ahead of the race towards a wireless-enabled branch of the future

As demand soars for public access to the internet over smartphones and tablets, in-branch wi-fi is right up there on banking customers’ wish lists. For a new generation of up-and-coming tech-savvy branch managers, like Jamie Pooley, that revolution couldn’t come soon enough.

So when Barclays engaged with BT Wi-fi in a fast-track project to launch BarclaysFreeWifi in 1,600 of its UK branches, Jamie and his colleagues were in their element. At the forefront of finding innovative ways of making technology work to the benefit of customers, they’re the people of the future who will people the branch of the future.

For us at Barclays, it’s all about the customer experience and we’re finding that our customers really love our free wi-fi.”
- Jamie Pooley Deputy Manager, Piccadilly Branch Barclays Bank


Britain’s banks have been through testing times in the past five years. With global presence in personal banking, credit cards, corporate and investment banking, and wealth management, Barclays weathered them better than most. But those challenges threw into sharp relief the importance of retail banking to its balance sheet.

The bank knew that free in-branch wi-fi access was high on customer wish lists and it moved to steal a march on its rivals by quickly responding to that demand. Barnaby Davis, managing director of the UK branch network at Barclays, says: “Barclays has a really strong history of innovation. We did not produce a traditional business case for the wi-fi rollout. It was about us being first for our customers with something we felt was really important.”

Branch wi-fi would put customer service innovation into the hands of employees, for example by accelerating the use of Barclays online apps and enabling branch staff to give on-the-spot guidance on how to use them. It would also help draw in casual visitors, who might then be encouraged to switch to a Barclays account. And it would open new dimensions of ease and confidence in one-to-one customer interactions.


A longstanding strategic partnership with Barclays – including the global wide area network, BT Radianz services, voice and online payment platforms, and security services – meant BT was well placed to help bring the bank’s plan to fruition. It had the necessary credentials too. Its specialist division, BT Wi-fi, has over five million hotspots under management in the UK – far more than any competitor – and it engineered the world’s largest high-density wireless network at the London 2012 Olympic Park.

BT Wi-fi proposed a white label service, with branch wi-fi provided by BT but identified to the public as BarclaysFreeWifi. That solution includes BT Wi-fi Protect. While the BT Wi-fi platform filters out illegal content as a matter of course, BT Wi-fi Protect offers the additional defence of a rule-based engine that specifically prevents access to pornography to both safeguard the bank’s image and reassure the public.

To make BarclaysFreeWifi attractive and easy to use, the bank wanted to eliminate hassle, with no form-filling or elaborate logon procedures. Accordingly, the BT Wi-fi design means customers just have to click to accept the terms and conditions and they’re away. Also, as a managed service, BT Wi-fi takes care of technical support and user queries.

After piloting the BT Wi-fi solution at three high street branches, Barclays pressed ahead with the rollout to 1,600 of its branches. “The feedback from customers and colleagues at the three pilot branches was really terrific,” says Peter Josse, co-head of infrastructure at Barclays. “This was a unique opportunity for us. The timescales we set ourselves were very, very challenging.” In fact, the bank wanted to finish the job in just six months – an average of over 250 branches a month.

Led by a BT Wi-fi project manager, collaborating with hardware suppliers and cabling installers, the implementation team included staff from the Barclays IT department. BT sorted the target branches into four categories based on footfall and projected bandwidth needs. The game plan was to install wi-fi at each branch on a single visit including cabling, routers, wireless access points, and broadband connections.

“The speed of the rollout was incredible,” says Barnaby Davis. “Between November 2012 and April 2013 we had 99 per cent rollout into the 1,600 branches. Before you knew it, the majority of our branches had free wi-fi. It was a phenomenal pace of change; and really impressively done.” At the project’s peak, more than 25 branches were being lit up every single day.


BarclaysFreeWifi caught the imagination and enthusiasm of customers immediately. During the implementation project, wireless session numbers increased by an average of 33 per cent a month for six straight months. Peter Josse says: “As the rollout drew to a close, usage climbed to 400,000 wi-fi sessions and more than 25 million wi-fi minutes a month and it’s still steeply rising. Meanwhile the innovative ideas we keep seeing from customers and colleagues continue to impress us.”

Barclays has designed in-branch wireless journeys for groups such as personal customers, business customers, and Barclays Premier customers. As part of that innovation, Barclays colleagues in branches were issued with 9,000 wireless-enabled-as-standard Apple iPads. “Our customers love the Barclays iPads because they love the idea of a bank being that progressive,” says Barnaby Davis. “Colleagues co-ordinating in the banking hall can work wherever the customer’s happiest, making everything much quicker.”

Not only allowing them to work with customers anywhere in the branch, the iPads mean that colleagues can demonstrate online apps on the spot, including Barclays Pingit mobile payment and Barclays Homeowner, illustrating the best options for customers’ needs.

Assistant manager at Barclays Piccadilly branch, Jamie Pooley, says: “Stories abound of how customers have suddenly realised the power of working online. The other day a couple in the queue needed to urgently pay a house deposit but didn’t have some essential details with them. Using BarclaysFreeWifi I was able to help them logon and retrieve the codes they needed, then arrange the funds transfer, all on the iPad. The woman, who was not a Barclays customer, was so impressed that she opened an account on the spot so she’d be able to use our Homeowner app in future.”

Wireless innovations, such as BarclaysFreeWifi, are central to plans being drawn up by Barclays for innovative customer services in its branch of the future model. Says Barnaby Davis: “The demise of the branch has been predicted for 20 years or more, but today we’re busier than ever. I see the smartphone as the remote control not just for people’s personal lives but for their banking relationships too. Customers’ mobile devices and our wireless enablement will be an increasingly powerful combination. I’m convinced that we’ll soon be looking at the customer’s screen more than ours.”

Barclays estimates that the BarclaysFreeWifi rollout has put it at least nine months ahead of the market. That first-mover advantage is not just about being the first to put wireless technology into people’s hands – important though that is – it’s more about being able to develop truly innovative business models based upon first-hand experience of an entirely new world. Peter Josse sums up: “The wi-fi project has been a huge success. We set a really tough challenge and BT Wi-fi, as our partner, stepped up and delivered against it.”

Core Services

  • BT Wi-fi
  • BT Wi-fi Protect