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Photo Courtesy of Silverstein Properties

Access Via App

​Virgin Money, part of the Virgin Group, is a U.K.–based bank with the goal of innovating how customers experience financial services. Founded in 2007, the bank has several lounges around the United Kingdom that offer free Wi-Fi and coffee for customers, as well as tellers and ATM machines for their banking needs. One of Virgin Money’s newest lounges even has a bowling alley inside.

“We’re about changing the face of banking…by providing fantastic customer service and facilities,” says Brian Shepherdson, property and facilities manager at Virgin Money.

With a multibuilding headquarters campus housing nearly 3,000 employees, the bank is always looking for ways to streamline its access control, enhance physical security, and improve the overall flow of business. 

“We have nearly 3 millio​n customers, and one of our key priorities is to make sure their data is safe,” Shepherdson notes. “Knowing who’s in the building and making sure the right people have access is fundamentally important to our business and our customers, as well as to protecting our brand.” 

 The bank has used the Honeywell EBI building management software suite since it first opened its campus about 10 years ago. EBI allows the company to manage various aspects of building efficiency and security, including access control. 

In early 2016, Honeywell was looking to conduct testing around the globe of its new Vector Occupant app, which has several building automation and business efficiency components. The app can be used for everything from temperature control to booking meeting rooms. 

Shepherdson says the bank was excited to be a part of a test group, and conversations about installation began in February 2016. “As part of the Virgin Group, we’re always looking to innovate and do things differently,” he adds.

Virgin Money was particularly interested in enhancing its access control with the Vector app. While the bank uses physical access control cards for headquarters employees to move throughout buildings on campus, it wanted to provide more convenience for users by supplying digital credentials directly on their smartphones. 

Shepherdson notes that the company’s process for replacing lost badges is burdensome, involving multiple steps and various departments. It also leaves the building vulnerable if an employee fails to promptly report a lost badge. 

“Whereas if you lose your cellphone, you’ll probably be aware quite quickly and you can report that,” he says. 

The Honeywell Vector Occupant App is available for download in app stores for smart devices. From the administrative side, Virgin Money provides a unique username and password for employees to enter once they’ve downloaded the app. 

“Once Vector is set up on a person’s device, the Bluetooth pairing on the device opens the door without contact. You don’t have to swipe a card,” he says. “If my phone is in my pocket, it will open the door when I’m near it.”

For the past year, about 30 people have been testing the Vector app, and Virgin Money is preparing to launch the app with a final, larger test group, before deploying it across the entire campus. 

“We need to get a reaction to the technology, and use the learning from that to roll it out further,” he notes. 

Testing the technology with a smaller group has had benefits, Shepherdson says. He explains that the Bluetooth access control feature was putting a huge strain on smartphone batteries, which would die quickly when using the app. 

“Initially we did experience a high level of drain on the battery, so Honeywell has developed the technology to solve that problem,” he notes. “Honeywell has made various improvements in the background to get through teething problems.” 

From a security standpoint, Shepherdson says there are several benefits to having access control on a phone rather than a physical card. “If you lost your access card on a Friday, you’ll probably wait until Monday to deal with that when you get back at the office,” he notes. “If we lose our smartphone we feel like we’ve lost our hand—that’s how possessive and reliant people are on a smartphone.” 

Virgin Money’s company-issued smartphones already come with an added layer of security around them that the company can control, including strong passcode requirements. Through Honeywell EBI, Shepherdson can add and revoke access to employees using the active directory. 

“If somebody loses a cellphone and reports it quickly, we can then disable their credentials more quickly...we can take away their access,” he says. 

And Vector integrates completely with Honeywell EBI, giving Shepherdson a full administrative picture of who is going where throughout the building. 

“We know who has authorized access to an area and who’s tried to get into an area where they don’t have authorization,” he explains. “A transit report would tell us exactly where they have been, what time they came in, where they went, and what doors they went through.” 

The bank is also testing the temperature control aspect of Vector, a portion of the app that allows building occupants to report their comfort level to building engineers in real time. 

“The Vector app recognizes where you are in the building—for example, meeting room 1—and when you’re in that space, it will give you the option to provide feedback in real time about the temperature,” Shepherdson says. 

If there is a general trend from occupants in a particular part of the building, an engineer will further investigate whether something is wrong with the HVAC system. If everything is running fine but several people report feeling hot or cold, the engineer will adjust the temperature. 

Later this year, the organization plans to roll out EasyLobby, a visitor management system through Honeywell EBI that prints a barcode for visitors or contractors. 

“Similar to when you get a boarding pass for air travel—an email with a barcode in it—we are looking to migrate our visitor and contractor experience to receive a notification linked to Honeywell’s access control system,” Shepherdson notes. They can present that barcode and receive access to the specific buildings they need on campus. 

Shepherdson says that the Vector app not only improves security, but also increases business efficiency for Virgin Money employees. “This product is very much a convenience for people, rather than a barrier.”


For more information: Julio Ampuero, [email protected],, 480/606-9569 ​ ​