Friday, July 15, 2005

As heat-wave hits Iberia, Barclays prepares to put its business customers on “ice”

By Peter Schirmer

Watched by sharp-eyed security guards, who had accompanied it from London, one of the most famous and sought-after pieces of footballing silverware – the Premiership Trophy – took pride of place at a ceremony at The Mount last night to mark the Gibraltar launch of Barclays Bank’s state-of-the-art internet banking system.

Initially the system - which cost more than £10 million to develop and has already been intensively tested in the bank’s operations in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man – will be offered to the bank’s bigger business customers.

Barclays anticipates that over the next 12 months at least 400 of its biggest customers – law and accountancy firms, trust and management companies and the bigger gaming operators – will sign up to use a system described as “having your own branch of the bank in your office”.

International Corporate e-Banking(dubbed ‘ICE’, though the official acronym is ICe-B) gives customers direct and immediate access to international banking services including multi-currency payments.

“It provides customers with complete control over the day-to-day financial running of their business,” says Nikolai Gafan, the Gibraltarian IT boffin appointed to head the bank’s internet banking team.

“Wherever you are based, and whenever you choose, ICE provides the freedom and flexibility to manage a business’s finances from a PC.”

Although the current system is geared to business users, on-going development (for which the bank has budgeted several million pounds annually) will see the system rolled out to private individual accounts…possibly within a year, Peter Horrell, the bank’s Director of International Corporate Banking tells me.

Horrell is in Gibraltar for the launch and was co-host with local Barclays director Tim Streatfeild-James at last night’s “premier” occasion which was attended by leaders of the business community and the Rock’s major finance industry players.

Guest speaker – flown out with the giant silver trophy for last night’s party – was British footballing legend Sir Bobby Robson.

“The system has been launched here by Barclays offshore business banking arm, International Corporate Banking, to support the bank’s goal of growing its business in Gibraltar by 40 per cent by 2008,” Horrell says.

The launch was part of Barclays International’s strategic expansion into key markets of which Gibraltar had been identified as a growth area.

It followed the launch of International Corporate Banking’s service in Hong Kong earlier this year. (Worldwide, InternationalCorporate manages £10billion of assets for more than 500 professional intermediaries and 48,000 companies – and more than £4 billion of these assets are already carried in the ICE system.

The new operating platform also provides other e-services such as FX Trader which provides real time access to market information and treasury dealing, enabling spot deals, fixed forward and option-dated forward contracts to be completed online.

“Gibraltar is a market that is growing in attractiveness with its traditional advantages being boosted by its EU membership, its growing links with Europe and Spain which encourages a free flow of labour,” Horrell said last night.

“This, combined with a high quality business infrastructure, means Gibraltar is one of the top performing offshore centres.

Barclays own significant investment in technology means customers in Gibraltar will now benefit from the Barclays Group strategic IT platform, giving them access to a far wider range of products and services than previously available.

Our corporate offer is hugely successful elsewhere and we expect the same level of success in Gibraltar.”

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