Innovation in Retail Banking: Setting the Tone

Last week’s gathering of banking and insurance executives, technology providers, industry analysts and media demonstrated that innovation is alive and well in retail banking today.

Craig Weber, CEO, Celent, kicked off the event (2013 Innovation & Insight Day) with a presentation of the “Innovation is…” contest, highlighting the requirements (six words or less following the lead of a very very short story attributed to Ernest Hemingway) and judging criteria based on conceptual power, creativity and practicality.

Reviewing some of the best entries was a great way to get attendees thinking about innovation right away. The overall winner was “Human Generated Evolution.”

Other notables were “Nowhere. Now here.” and “Creating Tomorrow’s Today.”

My personal favorite, although not ranked in the top three, was “Game‐changing ideas deliver surprising, inspiring results.” And in the interest of disclosure, although I submitted an entry personally, it wasn’t one of these—but it was certainly fun to participate!

The keynote speaker, Jeanne Ross, Director and Principal Research Scientist, MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research, challenged our thinking with, “Creating Innovation DNA.”

Why is digital innovation hard? Per Ross, many companies have individual projects demonstrating innovation, but generally these were not designed to work with each other and often create handicaps, rework and additional expense when delivered into the same environment.

She went on to say that the foundational requirement for successful innovation(s) is a digitized platform at the base--a repository of shared data, core processes and enterprise applications with which individual innovations can interact—and which enables more innovation to grow forth.

One remark made us all laugh. “What we all wish for: ‘happy surprises from IT.’ “

Looking at innovation as an ongoing journey made it seem more achievable, and not just aspirational.

The CISR diagram, “Developing a culture of innovation is transformational,” (below)
Diagram, "Developing a culture of innovation is transformational," from the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research, 2013

describes elements in each phase of the journey as work is undertaken to improve both business agility and efficiency within each organization.  

Often you have to work just as hard at getting employees and groups to use the data that is made available through innovation as you do bringing together all the data with technology. To tackle this challenge, Ross strongly recommends getting some (i.e., incremental) capabilities in place faster so that team members can begin using them, adopting the technology, and worry about making further improvements later. In other words, you can’t or shouldn’t wait to get everything planned or designed correctly first, because you’ll never be done.

There are multiple approaches to innovation which Ross highlighted with six case studies.

When asked by an audience member about how innovation might fit in the highly regulated industry of banking, Ross warned: “Be careful not to use regulation as an excuse.”

She went on to say, “Regulation forces clarity and identifies the need for capabilities which can deliver value. You should look for innovation everywhere you can and also look for where you might need new capabilities.”

The final point was an important one. How are we going to fundamentally operate? If you want to transform, you need to let go of “business-as-usual” (your day-to-day job).

How are you actively pursuing innovation in your organization?


This discussion will be continued in upcoming retail banking blogs.

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