Q&A with Harry Harrison, Former Head of Barclays Non-Core

harry harrison barclays

Harry Harrison is one of the first people who comes to mind as a leader in the field of financing, advisory, and investment. He has an impressive resume that includes a BS at the University of Warwick in Economics capped off by a Master degree at the University of Cambridge in Philosophy of Finance. With over twenty years of experience under his belt, he is recognized as an expert with a wealth of knowledge. He was the head at Barclays Non-Core between the years of 2014 and 2017 in London. He’s transitioned to New York City where he focuses on his family. He’s been a stay-at-home parent in the next chapter of his life. He is also supportive of his wife, Amy Nauiokas and her position as not only the president, but the founder, of Anthemis Group. She’s involved in digital financial services, both advisory and investment.

Harrison’s involvement in the investment field didn’t stop when he left Barclays. Today, he’s making a valuable contribution with consulting, guiding up and coming entrepreneurs in a field that is ever-changing. He recognizes the need to prioritize and be innovative. Diversification and humility are also necessary ingredients for success.

Walk our readers through a typical morning routine for you.

There really isn’t a typical morning routine for me at the moment as there isn’t a typical day either. My life has had me doing a variety of things lately, ranging from field trips, homework assignments, sprained wrists, upset stomachs, and playdates- things that are all on the calendars for a 6 year old and an 9 year old. I’ve also been enjoying spending time with up and coming entrepreneurs through a number of consulting and/or advising.

What is a healthy habit you keep that enhances your productivity?

I have begun practicing yoga on a regular basis. This had been recommended to me for some time now by both my wife and my doctors as a means to increase my flexibility. However, in addition to improving my poor flexibility, I have also benefited spiritually. The breathing and meditation have helped me juggle the stresses of work and family life more efficiently. I have begun practicing regularly this year, and I’m really enjoying both the physical and mental development I’m experiencing.

If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?

I have always been a results-oriented individual in all aspects of life, whether revolved around exam results, sports teams, industry polls, etc. I think I have been ok with celebrating each breakthrough, I don’t think I have enjoyed the journey as much. I’d advise my younger self to also find joy in the daily steps and interactions along the way that lead to the end goal, as they are just as important and worthy of celebrating.

How do you stay organized throughout the day and complete the tasks you need to complete?

I prioritize things into categories of what is required and what is critical and then delegate accordingly. This helps me avoid procrastination and long to-do lists. I also keep in mind that I cannot get to or even close out everything in one day, but I try to keep things moving forward at all times while making sure the team is on the same page about the prioritization of tasks and the expected close out date.

What drove you to bring your entrepreneurial dreams to life?

I have always had a powerful curiosity about the ins and outs of how companies work. In particular, I wanted to know how they move a business model or idea from theory into practice. I would start with looking at things at a micro level and then moving into the interplay between that and the macroeconomic forces that make markets function (or not).

Along those lines, I decided to focus on economics for A-level in both undergraduate and graduate studies. After pursuing my graduate work in finance at Cambridge University, I knew that I wanted a career in financial services. That was nearly three decades ago, and I have spent much of time as a derivatives trader and manager of fixed income sales and trading trades ever since.

What is a piece of advice you would give to someone expanding their business?

To always believe in the benefits of innovation – that has helped me grow my business. Also, a combination of diversity, humility, and collaboration is difficult to beat. From my experience, the quality of ideas is directly proportional to how much diversity (intellectual, experimental, ethnic, geographic), humility (clear-eyed view of limitations, individual and collective), and collaboration (internal and external) there is with the team that is progressing. Also, a single bank is typically not capable of taking on the load of the entire industry as many big financial services ideas need the buy in from multiple players. I am speaking from own experience here, as I believe that my industry colleagues and I have not always delivered in this area or at least timescales for implementation of major changes could have been dramatically shortened.

What is an obstacle you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur and how did you work through it? 

In 2003, I was transferred to New York with Barclays with the task to build us up as a major player in the US rates market. This was not going to be easy as the major US investment banks already provided massive liquidity to a very well-curated and long-lasting client base across multiple fixed income products. These collaborations were also very strong all around, across all levels of institutions. I realized I had to be innovative in order to create our own playing field among the giants, and a simple copycat strategy was not going to cut it. This also involved confidence in foreseeing where the market was headed and being brave enough to be the maverick. The only way to accomplish that was to do what nobody really wanted to do, namely disrupt the market and the comfortable status quo of the traditional “voice” or “over the counter” interest rate swaps market with something new. This was the very strong electronic trading capacity that Barclays had already established in Europe, and it proved to be an ideal opportunity for us to stand out while at the same time offer clients a service that we knew they would benefit from. We had thereby gained a foothold, which enabled us to become one of the giants as we lead the way and converted clients to this new form of execution. I truly enjoyed witnessing the evolution of the marketplace as a result of a disrupting idea and its execution.

What is a financial idea you’ve been brainstorming that you can share with our readers?

I have been watching a fairly new service transpire that is very promising in terms of its commercial characteristics, and it has to do with how tuition is paid in a way that circumvents student loan debt that is burdening more and more graduates. The product, Income Share Agreements (ISAs), has been touched upon in a few different ways as a way to finance education. The great part is that it is inherently market-driven rather than a financialization of government funding or grants. Even better is the fact that there is a vast addressable market that surpasses that of private student loans.

In a sea of debt based financing options, ISAs are an equity-like financial product. In short, investors provide upfront tuition financing in exchange for a defined portion of students’ future earnings. Ideally, the ISAs would be based on an entire student package that includes characteristics such as credit, academic performance, program, field of study, etc. It would have a relatively narrow band of eligible earnings (i.e., threshold to initiate payments, a cap on payments). The underwriters would be the investors, and the product is based on some stable, rich forecasting of future earnings (that could later be collected based on W-2 or similar documents).

Its social dimension – geared at this messy but daunting issue of education financing – is  clear, precise, and most of all quantifiable.

What’s the best use of $100 you’ve spent recently?

It was definitely $100 on a day ticket for the Arthur Ashe stadium seats at the US Open. This was completely unexpected as I remember trying to get tickets for Wimbledon, and that was really hard. Getting tickets for centre court is close to impossible. To my surprise, tickets for the first week of the US Open were not only available, but they were also less than $100! Another perk is that the ticket allows you access to the back courts and concessions all evening. Since this was only the first week, we got to see some big names. It was a hot day, but well worth out time.

Is there a software or web service that you use as an organization tool?

I have been using Waze. It’s the largest community-based traffic and navigation app that crowdsources information from its user base. The app brings together drivers who are in the same area and who share real-time traffic and road info, so you are constantly updated and rerouted as traffic conditions change. This is the perfect time-saver, and its also economical as it helps you avoid traffic jams and other inconveniences. Waze is remarkable and ahead of all the other navigation apps. You can even record navigation directions in your own voice – I use it to tease my family.

What’s a book you would recommend to our readers?

One of the better benefits of taking a break from working is that I have much more time to read. My bedside stack of books has been increasing dramatically, and I have been casting a wide net when it comes to which topics to cover. Some of the topics I have enjoyed are ranging from those that pertain to persistence and hard work to the patterns of tremendous societal changes particularly in the current geopolitical environment. However, one book that I particularly recommend is Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead. Gates discusses the sheer scale of the vision and changes he saw coming, and that has vastly affected both my thinking and my work.

What’s a favorite quote of yours that inspires you? 

“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” – Dale Carnegie


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