Barclays has just mailed all of its personal banking customers to tell them how it makes use of their personal information. Media coverage has focused on plans to sell aggregated data to third parties. But the bank is to be congratulated on a positive act of data governance and a shift towards greater transparency and openness. As such, it is setting a benchmark which other major data controllers will need to measure themselves against.
The move should also be seen in a broader context in which established brands are taking visible steps to build trust with their customers - and contrasting their desire to go above-and-beyond what they are required to do with other organisations which claim that meeting legal requirements is enough. Sainsbury’s chairman Justin King commented that saying you abide by the law does not create trust among customers on its own - they expect that already.
King’s target was the e-tailers benefitting from complex tax avoidance schemes. Barclays’ move comes against a backdrop of concern about data gathering practices at Google, for example, and ahead of open data mandated by Government. It could also be argued that the bank has a long way to go to re-establish trust in the wake of financial scandals, even if most of the problems happened in its investment arm, rather than the retail bank. Its chairman Sir David Walker is making concerted - and even brave - attempts at a dramatic overhaul of the company’s culture.
For other major data owners, it seems likely that transparency will have to become the default, rather than an option. If that sounds easy, consider just how secretive data management has tended to be. Customers have been offered a one-sided deal in which their personal information becomes a corporate asset with little value returned back to them. Practitioners always talk about doing the right thing, but most still only do the minimum.
For example, how many businesses openly tell customers the extent to which direct variables will be integrated with other information, such as mobile and social, to build a deeper picture of them? That is a fresh statement by Barclays which, along with revealing plans to sell aggregated data, tells customers what the data industry has long been up to, but tried to conceal.
Open data will drive a change to that culture, together with greater and more vocal demands by consumers to know what happens to their information. A new layer of regulation (if it ever gets approved in Brussels) will simply codify what this new data governance culture is aiming to achieve. Barclays has just got there ahead of its rivals - and before the regulators made it necessary.