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The size, scale and sense of purpose of Barclays offers our tech people the chance to tackle some of the biggest challenges in technology, banking, and the world around us. By doing so, they deliver work with real, tangible positive impact.

“The biggest challenges require the hardest-working data.” That’s what Sapna Sardana says, and she should know. Sapna and her Climate Change Technology & Data team won a Barclays CEO Award for the work the team are doing to underpin our net-zero ambition.

Sapna Sardana is Global Head of Planning & Stress Testing, Climate Change and Internal Reporting Technology. As it sounds from her job title, she is tech lead for three areas that are absolutely critical to our ability to measure performance and impact: the overall planning and stress testing platforms for Group Finance; the internal reporting platforms that generate critical reporting for Finance teams; the technology and data pillar of our climate change program. 

Sapna has over 25 years’ technology experience. But few projects have offered her the kind of challenges, the learning opportunities or the sense of accomplishment that came with setting up the Climate Change Technology & Data team.

The team’s work could hardly be more important. Barclays has a particularly critical part to play in helping the world to address the urgent and complex challenges of climate change. It requires a fundamental transformation of the global economy, so that society stops adding to the total amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. 

In March 2020, we announced an ambition to be a net zero bank by 2050, becoming one of the first banks to do so. We’re driving towards that ambition in three key ways:

  • Achieving net zero operations by cutting the emissions from our operations and supply chain.
  • Financing the transition to a green and sustainable economy.
  • Reducing our financed emissions in line with the goals and timelines of the Paris Agreement. 

Our tech teams will play a leading role in how we understand, approach and deliver on each element of this ambition. But it’s the financed emissions part of the equation that presents the biggest data challenges. It means trying to benchmark and track our progress against the activities and impact of the myriad global sectors and organisations that we support through financing. 

This mammoth task started with our Quantitative Analytics (QA) teams, who created BlueTrack™, a proprietary Barclays methodology for measuring our financed emissions and tracking them at a portfolio level against the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

BlueTrack™ builds on existing industry approaches to cover not only lending, but also capital markets financing. This better reflects the breadth of our support for clients through our investment bank and sets us apart from many of our peers.

BlueTrack™ starts by selecting an appropriate benchmark for a sector, which defines how financed emissions for a portfolio need to change over time in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

We then determine how our sector portfolios are performing against these benchmarks: by estimating the emissions that our clients produce, determining how those emissions should be linked to the financing we provide, and aggregating those measurements into a portfolio-level metric. 

This portfolio-level metric is then compared to the sector benchmark, allowing us to make active choices to reshape our portfolio and accelerate the shift from higher-carbon to lower-carbon activity. For this reason, BlueTrack™ does not take carbon offsets into account. 

Of course, the success of BlueTrack™ depends upon the flow of accurate and consistent data to feed the model. In turn, the entire process is supported by a new tech infrastructure that captures the data, executes the model, creates reports and empowers people across Barclays to use the insight to make a positive impact.

The Climate Change Technology & Data team are responsible for both sides of that equation. Collaborating closely with teams in QA, Climate Strategy, Climate Risk & Climate Controls, and Reporting, Sapna’s team stood up a sustainable infrastructure to source data, implement the methodology and track financed emissions. 

The team created an automated reporting platform to perform data analytics, and manage internal, external and regulatory reporting. And, because it’s mission critical that we’re constantly maintaining and upgrading the quality of the data that feeds our models, the team defined a robust framework for data strategy, governance and controls. 

On the data side, our biggest challenge was analysing the sources of the data,” explains Sapna. “Where do we draw data from? What’s publicly available? What have the organisations we finance declared? What low-carbon transition plans have they made? And what new projects do they have on the horizon?

Then it’s about making all that data work together. Marrying internal Barclays data with information from our clients and other public sources. Standardising formats and measurements. Checking quality. Manually bridging gaps or quality issues.

"Take a sector like Residential Real Estate. If we’re looking at a mortgage portfolio in that sector, we need to understand the size of each home, the number of rooms, the number of floors, the type of heating system etc. before we can gauge its power consumption. Elements of data like this are hard to find, but critical to creating an accurate picture of our financed emissions." 

At the beginning, it was a wide-open challenge and a steep learning curve for everyone on the newly formed team. “We started from scratch. We didn’t even know what kind of data the business needed. We had to connect the various teams and requirements up across the bank. There was lots of exploration and experimentation. And it’s such an evolving subject area. There’s so much to learn in the climate space,” Sapna says.

We’re not subject matter experts in climate change. Or business processes, for that matter. But we are the experts in data. To do our jobs right, we have to understand the data. So we learned a lot about climate change and the action we need to take to fight it. We keep up to date by reviewing white papers on the relevant topics, attending virtual conferences and generally reading up on the internet.

Perhaps the most influential part of the project was the creation of the Climate Data Repository, a golden source of climate-related data for the whole of Barclays to use. “By creating a single source of truth, we can ensure that we’re all consistently accessing and acting on the same data,“ explains Sapna. ”Even if there’s something wrong with a data point, it’s consistently wrong. And when we solve the issue, everyone benefits.”   

By combining this golden source of data with a scalable infrastructure based on Enterprise Data Platform principles, Sapna’s team have ensured that the solution is set up to help Barclays make a difference, in lots of different ways.

“We’re helping the business to execute the BlueTrack™ model, realign our portfolios, meet our regulatory reporting needs, and establish climate as a principal risk factor in financing decisions. But we’re also supporting the business to devise our client transition framework, directly influencing the way that our clients think about their emissions. And we’re preparing for the future by building ‘What if…?’ capabilities into the user interface,” says Sapna. 

The scalability of the infrastructure is vital to expanding BlueTrack™ across new sectors. The model was first applied to the Power, Energy, Metals, Cement, Autos and Residential Real Estate sectors. In particular, we aim to assess our baseline financed emissions across Agriculture, Commercial Real Estate, Aviation and Shipping sectors during 2023.

The Climate Change Technology & Data team is also devising a forward-looking climate data strategy to act as a “north star” in the ever-evolving landscape of climate data. The team is defining a target operating model that follows a mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive approach. That means bringing together a cohesive blueprint that outlines the data universe, people, processes, governance, and architecture for the Climate Data Repository. 

The blueprint helps us manage the growing demand for climate data and identify opportunities to innovate and improve our approach, explains Sapna.

To Sapna, the whole project is a real-life example of the Barclays Mindset in action. “That’s one of the reasons I put my team forward for the CEO Award. We had to empower each other to create something new. We had to challenge the way things we’re being done across our sector. And we had to drive towards multiple key goals and milestones all at once.

Ones and zeroes that add up to net zero. It’s happening here.

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