Q&A: Barclaycard CEO Valerie Soranno Keating on the future of money

She tells us about the rapid technological changes in the payment industry

Since taking the helm at the world’s eighth-largest payment company in 2009, Valerie Soranno Keating has more than doubled Barclaycard’s pre-tax profit and increased customer numbers by 57%. She’s grown payments volumes by 28%, increased return on equity by 58%, and grown share in all businesses and markets.

And this was all while she was guiding the firm through the later stages of the banking crisis.

She spent 16 years at American Express before taking the helm at Barclaycard.

As CEO there, she has led the company into increasingly innovative payment methods, including contactless and mobile phone payments.

So it’s not surprising that Soranno Keating has recently been shortlisted for Leader of the Year at the National Business Awards

LondonlovesBusiness.com spoke to her to find out how we will pay for things in the future and how diversity within a team doesn’t happen without a bit of effort.

Q. Hi Valerie. You’ve been CEO of Barclaycard for three years, and it’s safe to say that it has been a fairly turbulent time for the banking sector. What are the greatest changes that you have witnessed?

There’s no doubt that we’ve had major shifts and major changes. The pace of change has gone up significantly and we’re seeing more and more non-banking players and new technologies and new ideas for ways to pay. There’s also been a heightening of the regulatory pressures. And all of these things do create a degree of disruption, but I really view the disruption as opportunity.

Q. You mentioned mobile technology and non-banking players becoming an issue. Do you think that telecoms companies will became major actors?

I really find that it’s quite healthy within any industry when there are some challenging new technologies out there.

When you think about payments, consumers and merchants need something scalable. Consumers don’t need 20 different ways to pay or 20 different technologies depending on which merchant you happen to be talking to.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the technology and to see which one will become scalable and will shape payments in the future.

Q. What do you think the future is for cash?

I believe that cash will still be around for at least another 10 or 20 years. It still will be a form of currency in the future. People will also still want plastic in their wallets, and different forms of plastic to do different things.

They’ll have a mobile phone for payments, or they might have a key-fob, but really it’s about convenience.

I don’t think any one of those technologies will be the end of the others.

Q. What are the management practices you’ve developed that have contributed to being shortlisted for this award?

When it comes to leadership, I see myself as a situational leader. To be a situational leader it’s a matter of acting at the time and being adaptive to different styles.

On an individual level, in order to hit that target, sometimes people might need a bit more direction, but you have to tailor that to each individual.

Q. How important is diversity at Barclaycard?

What we need are different people from different backgrounds with different experiences who view the world in very different ways.

I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of building a highly diverse team with people who come from very different walks of life. Barclaycard hires people from different industries and also people from different geographies, gender and sexual orientation, and I think all of them are key for improving our business.

Q. Has it been an uphill struggle to achieve that?

I cannot say, but I feel it’s something I think should be intuitive and be something we should all be doing, but the fact is that it really does take effort and I do need to remind myself to be much more conscious about it sometimes, because we really are changing cultures.

Q. Have these shifts in diversity helping the perception of the banking sector in the public consciousness?

Yes, I think that diversity of thinking will be key to driving growth. That’s really crucial because we need to be representative of our customer base.

Q. If you were to yourself one tip 10 years ago, what would it be?

Oh god that’s a tough one. Actually, 10 years ago was when I had my twins, so I think in my mind I was trying to work out how to balance my work and life.

So for me it made me very aware of how I approach family life. It’s very important to see yourself as a role model.

Q. Thanks Valerie and good luck with the awards.


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