Financial services firm Barclays invests in perks to help staff give back to the community, says Debbie Lovewell
For many, helping a charity is as simple as dropping several coins into a collecting tin or buying the Big Issue. While the idea of being more actively involved in charitable causes may be appealing, the reality is that most find it difficult to find the time amid the demands of modern life.
At Barclays, however, helping staff to contribute both time and money to charity is a central part of its business ethos. The organisation has a global community investment strategy designed to enable employees to give something back to their local community or to charity through a method of their choosing.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes like this are often used by organisations to not only build morale and engagement internally but to also to help foster a positive image externally. Like many large corporates Barclays has had its fair share of negative media coverage most memorably in relation to a campaign by anti-apartheid activists to force the bank out of South Africa where it was operating until 1986 when it quit the country. In 2005, it returned, acquiring a majority stake in one of the country’s largest retail banks, Asba.
Hannah Roberts, global community investment manager, would not comment on this. Setting out the bank’s ethos, she says: “Fundamental to Barclays’ business strategy, and one of our guiding principles is responsibility. We want to be a responsible organisation and that works both in terms of how we make our money, so [through] our environmental policies, our commitment to financial inclusion, how we treat our staff, how we treat our customers, diversity and so forth, but it also applies to how we spend our money as well. That’s why we commit such a large amount to investing in the community because we’re a key player in those communities, and therefore we have this responsibility to give back.
“We don’t want to be the guys who just write a big cheque. What we really want to do is to engage our colleagues and use the skills and knowledge that we have both as an organisation and as individuals within it to put back more. By linking it to our desire to become a responsible organisation, it is more sustainable, [and] it is fundamental to how we do business.”
The bank’s community strategy is led by a central team based in London, but implemented locally across the group. This year marks a significant step forward as it will be the first time that the strategy has been consolidated under a single umbrella globally. “Historically, [it has] been very strong in the UK, and very strong across Africa, but what our strategy does in terms of the three areas we focus on is give us the opportunity to engage all of our [employees] around the world under key umbrellas.
“We set the strategy, the direction, the overall communications, and within each business area and within virtually each country that we are in, we have teams on the ground that implement this. They’re actually out there engaging colleagues and working with the local communities, really understanding what the needs are and forming key relationships with organisations, projects and charities,” Roberts add.
The bank’s strategy comprises three strands that use benefits to encourage staff to become more involved with good causes. Firstly, each of Barclays’ 123,000 employees worldwide can take advantage of various initiatives designed to support any volunteering that they wish to undertake. These include giving staff time off to participate in projects, although the amount of time employees can take varies between countries. “As a minimum, we recommend every employee can get hold of at least eight hours of work time globally. In the UK typically it’s two days. In different parts of the business, it varies according to local need. In Portugal, it’s six days, and in the US where they do weekly mentoring [in schools], it’s enough hours to let them go.
“The key to it though is that it’s about line management agreement. Each business area has the opportunity to have their own policy but it’s absolutely up to the local line manager to ensure it sits with making sure that the business runs because we don’t want Barclays to grind to a standstill,” says Roberts.
Staff can also apply for a volunteering grant of up to £500, if they get together a group of five or more colleagues who wish to participate in a particular project in their community. This was extended to cover all employees worldwide last October to coincide with the volunteering and training organisation CSV’s Make a Difference Day, which Barclays has sponsored since 2000. “Let’s say that colleagues want to start up a reading club with children from a school that they care about, we can then give them the grant that they need to buy the books to be able to do that,” explains Roberts.
If UK employees wish to raise funds for a particular cause, they can also apply for Barclays to match any money that they make up to the value of £750 three times a year.
The final strand of Barclays’ employee programme is its support of employees’ donations through payroll giving to charitable causes and the separate Pennies For Heaven scheme, which involves employees agreeing to employers paying any change available within from their salaries to charity direct from payroll. These schemes, however, primarily exist for UK-based staff.
The bank has been making deductions for its payroll giving scheme for the past 20 years and in 2002, it introduced matched contributions for staff from a fund which is now worth £750,000 a year. This is paid out annually to enable the amount to be distributed pro-rata if staff have contributed to more than one charity during the year.
Last year, the scheme was given a further boost with the launch of an on-going communications campaign intended to help raise awareness of payroll giving after take-up rates stabilised. “What we wanted to do was launch a communications campaign just to make sure that people were aware of it and that the reason they hadn’t signed up was because they didn’t know about it rather than they didn’t want to do it,” says Roberts.
Its campaign combined traditional media such as posters, messages in payslips and the company’s intranet and community websites with face-to-face briefings for staff from its team of community managers across the UK and site visits by advisers from payroll giving firm Workplace Giving UK, in particular to the bank’s branch network.
The results speak for themselves. “The last payroll we had before we started the campaign was in June last year. As at [this] payroll, there were 3,187 Barclays colleagues signed up for it [in the UK]. On average, they were giving about £65,000 a month before Barclays’ matching. Now, as at May’s payroll [this year], we have 5,705 people signed up. That’s an increase of 79% in less than a year. Between them, they are giving about £96,500 each month, again before our matching,” she says.
Roberts adds that, on average, approximately 300 staff each month are signing up to the scheme, which raised £599,000 in the first five months of this year before matched funding. The budget for matching staff donations has also increased from £500,000 to £750,000 in line with the growth in take up.
In total last year, 33,000 employees chose to become involved in the community programme in some way, supporting around 8,300 charities and organisations in approximately 30 different countries. Barclays enabled them to commit 76,000 hours of work time and paid out £694,000 in volunteering grants alone.
The community investment strategy is not simply an act of generosity for the bank which has identified solid business reasons for its varied programme of initiatives. “We know that we have a more engaged and motivated employee base, and we know that it enforces our reputation as a responsible organisation. Internal research we’ve done really shows the value of our support for our colleagues and our support for the community more widely as our people feel proud to work for the organisation, and ultimately, that’s really important. They want to work for a company that takes their responsibilities seriously and empowers them as individuals to get involved.
“We also [carry out] an annual employee opinion survey, and one of the questions in there is whether people recognise that they themselves are getting involved in Barclays-supported community activities. Those that said they did answered more positively to virtually every single question,” says Roberts.
But she adds staff are not obligated to take part. “What’s really important is we don’t force people to go. What we would rather do is motivate and inspire people and give them the support they need to want to go and do it, rather than say ‘you must do that’.”
As the title for its employee programmes indicates, charity really does begin at work.
Barclays at a glance
The origins of Barclays bank can be traced back to 1690 when John Smith and Thomas Gould began trading as Goldsmith bankers in the City of London. The Barclays name was not used until more than 200 years later, however, when the company joined together with 19 other private banking houses to form Barclay and Company Ltd, which had 182 branches.
In 1918, it became one of the UK’s big five banks following a merger with the London, Provincial and South Western Bank, while its international arm came into being in 1925 following an overseas merger. Over the years, Barclays has launched a series of firsts into the UK financial market, including a credit card in 1966 and personal bankers in its branches. It was also responsible for launching the world’s first cash machine in 1967.
Earlier this year, Barclays, which now employs 123,000 staff worldwide, announced plans to bid for Dutch bank ABN Amro. But the proposal is facing a challenge from rival bidders. Its pre-tax profits for the first quarter of 2007, meanwhile, saw a 15% growth year-on-year.
Career history – Hannah Roberts
Hannah Roberts, global community investment manager, joined Barclays’ graduate programme just over six years ago. After undertaking a variety of marketing and communications roles, she moved to her current position around 18 months ago, where she is responsible for Barclays’ global community investment strategy, which, last year, was worth £46.5m.
Roberts explains that the position enables her to combine her personal passions with her professional life. “In my previous role, I’d started getting very heavily involved in community activity myself and had started going from doing some of the more standard team challenge activities to getting involved with a charity that’s very close to my heart in Whitechapel, which is Whitechapel Mission. It’s a homeless day centre and I’m a trustee there. My passion for getting involved in putting back into the community came first of all in my personal life before the role came up,” she explains.
Her communication skills are also vital in helping to get the message across. “What the role needed was a passion or energy for doing this stuff, and someone that was therefore committed to doing it themselves, but also the communications skills that I picked up in my former roles. If you’re out there engaging employees, one of the biggest [things] you’ve got to do is communicate with them, says Roberts.
She is clearly passionate about her work. “The role is just fantastic. I’m one of the few people in this world who actually enjoys getting out of bed and going to work,” she says.
What are the benefits?
Closed defined benefit plan. Career average plan with 3% employee contributions and matching employer contributions.
Corporate social responsibility
Volunteering grants of up to £500 for groups of five staff or more. Up to two paid days a year off to volunteer. Matched fundraising of up to £750 three times a year. Payroll giving with full matching donations each year from a fund of £750,000. Employees can also donate spare change from their salaries through the Pennies For Heaven scheme.
Range of options available including part-time working, job sharing, compassionate leave, career breaks and compressed hours.
Company cars for drivers with a business need. Cash allowance for perk drivers.
Range of discounted Barclays products and services. Childcare vouchers. Employee assistance programme.
Case study: Barclays
Debbie Phillips, corporate affairs manager, has worked for Barclays for 20 years.
She contributes £30 a month through the company’s payroll giving scheme, which, after tax relief and Barclays’ matched funding, equates to £1,200 a year.
“It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time but it took me a while to sign up. I’ve always dropped a coin in a bucket, but this makes so much sense,” she explains.
Phillips contributes to a charity account rather than to a specific charity, which enables her to divide her money between causes. It also means that she can make larger donations when sponsoring family and friends for events. “It enables me to be much more generous,” she says.
Phillips also takes advantage of Barclays’ matched fundraising scheme, and does a lot to raise money for her niece’s school.