Barclays’ Absa Rebrand

Barclays’ Absa Rebrand Photo

Barclays plc has been a major player in the African banking market for more than a century, but that all changed in 2016 when the global financial institution sold its controlling interest in Barclays Africa Group Limited (BAGL).

Financial and legal regulations meant BAGL could no longer carry the Barclays name or trademark. All interests—from its name, through its systems and data, to its documentation—had to be completely separated from its former parent company.

To make this enormous transition, Barclays became Absa Group Limited and, in 2018, launched a top-to-bottom rebrand. It was a significant undertaking, which included relaunching banks across 12 African countries in just three years, without losing any customer or diminishing market capital or brand equity. The key was ensuring there were minimum disruption to customers and zero security lapses.

“The scope of this program was extensive, to say the least,” said Ebo Richardson, account executive for the separation program in Ghana. “It comprised essentially the whole bank, from all branded elements and documentation to systems and real estate. Everything was in scope, with a major challenge of transitioning from a brand that had been 100-plus years in the market to one that was comparatively little known.”

The Three Pillars of Success

To make the project more feasible, every task of this transformational project was organized in three broad workstreams, or pillars. Each pillar had the dedicated oversight of a senior director, as well as a program manager who was responsible for driving the day-to-day delivery. These pillars were:

  1. Brand and Name Change. Elements of this workstream included managing brand equity, engaging and communication with all stakeholders; and rebranding the bank’s real estate, ATMs, documentation, and debit and credit cards. This scope extended right down to forms, stationery, messaging and corporate attire. The goal was to keep each piece of the rebrand on the same timetable and make the transition as seamless to customers as possible.

  2. Change Delivery. This pillar encompassed all  the projects that were essential for delivering a successful outcome, including transitioning skills and knowledge, migrating platforms from U.K. data centers to South African data centers, as well as installing new systems and platforms, and developing new capabilities. Other projects covered process improvements and finessing delivery of the customer experience.

  3. People and Culture. This workstream focused on calibrating the organization and its culture to position the new brand in a positive light for all stakeholders, and ensure colleagues were duly taken along the change journey.

In addition, Richardson says these factors contributed to project success:

  • Buy-In: When making this huge scale of change, Richardson says it’s important to gain adequate leadership support and buy-in from the top of the organization, from the very start; without these,  successful delivery can easily be compromised. In addition, the company concentrated on getting support from customers and employees by consulting with more than 130,000 colleagues, customers, stakeholders and regulators across the continent.

  • Change Mindsets: According to Richardson, there was a significant need for changemakers on this project. “They are those who easily understand the need, the terrain and the approach and can offer the required leadership from a change perspective to others who may not necessarily be like-minded or supportive,” he said. “So, it's not just about the technicalities of driving the project management aspects, but it's also about having that change orientation and change agility that enables you to pull everyone else along.”

  • Governance Rigor: The sorts of changes embarked on were high risk, which called for exceptional governance rigor.  This included enforcement of applicable standards, reviews and assessments by globally renowned assurance organizations and top-notch quality assurance (including all types of testing and dress rehearsals). When conducting the kinds of deployments and migrations that this project required, Richardson says it was important to test, test and test some more to ensure everything worked as it should. Prior to every major deployment or launch, the project team would conduct several dress rehearsals for banking systems and operations on weekends when banking activities were at their minimum. The goal was to see where there were issues and remedy them to ensure a smooth go-live.

Richardson says the rebrand of Barclays to Absa Group Limited was a resounding success. Not only was it delivered on time and within budget, but also seamlessly without any major disruptions, the loss of brand equity or a significant loss of customers, all while creating buzz about the energetic new brand.

“This was a daunting task, but we recognized that we had to make it work for the sustainability of our business and the interests of our stakeholders,” Richardson said. “We saw it as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and create a whole new pan-African banking proposition with the mechanics and capabilities to drive financial solutions for Africa and bring our customers’ possibilities to life.”


Project of the Week article developed for Project Management Institute, Inc. by staff content writer Deryn Zakielarz.


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