“End the Carnival!” – Innovation as Part of the Business - Practitioner Roundtable
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3 February 2014Michael Fitzgerald
We just held our 3rd Innovation Roundtable in New York City and the event further underscored how important this area is to financial services institutions. The format of these gatherings is discussion-based and senior leaders from banks and insurers share their experiences in building innovation capabilities in their firms. The New York group included large insurers (all were $5B DWP and above) and a variety of banks, from among the largest in the world to smaller, regional providers. Mick Simonelli, previously the Chief Innovation Officer at USAA, also attended and contributed his experience. Across these firms, there is a real diversity in their approach – a reflection that innovation programs are most successful when they adapt to the culture of a company. One attendee describes their innovation strategy as making big bets only on carefully selected areas that are the highest importance to their company. Another wants to increase their “innovation velocity” and pursues incremental initiatives that, when added together, result in meaningful contributions the short to medium term. In contrast to these differences, the participants agree that that their senior leaders recognize emerging disruptive threats and/or opportunities posed by new entrants, increasing commoditization, and changing consumer expectations. For example, one bank reports that its senior leaders are very actively tracking Amazon’s recent activity offering loans to small businesses. This awareness in these companies is not surprising, since these roundtables are attended by organizations which are already actively pursuing innovation. Most attendees mentioned that they regularly report to their Boards of Directors on their progress. In Celent’s opinion, just the presence of a firm at the roundtable signals that they are building, or on their way to building, a competitive advantage. Without identifying individual participants, here is a sampling of the content of the afternoon:
- One company, in their 5th year of a focused innovation program, describes their current approach as “moving away from the Carnival”, away from event, one-time crowdsourcing ideation efforts and towards making innovation a systemic and continuous part of their business. Their objective is to “create a social layer of innovation.” They were kind enough to detail the technology and process that they have used so far.
- There was agreement that financial services firms advance innovations much too slowly. This has been confirmed in numerous conversations that Celent has had with clients and has also validated our research. In order to address this, one company actively establishes 3rd party partnerships in order to move innovation faster. They partner with startup firms in order to increase their velocity of change.
- A common theme throughout the day was evolving digital capabilities and how other firms, outside of financial services, are changing the customer experience. One firm concentrates on building a “macro view” of what they want their customer to experience. As they improve and innovate their current customer process, they are using this this wider set of considerations to ensure that they remain focused. This is exactly consistent with a recent post on this blog regarding designing digital platforms (see Stop Designing to be a Digital Insurer; Use a Business Value Proposition)
- The attendees were also global, both by birth and by company. They report the greatest adoption of mobile platforms occurs in Asia and in emerging economies. It was also noted that in EMEA, the experience of dealing with multiple languages, cultures and multiple European regulatory regimes increases their companies’ agility and, thus, their innovation capability. For firms that have global operations, concentrating on reverse engineering innovations from one region to another is a valuable investment and a viable strategy.
- During the discussion about changing company culture to further innovation capability, one practitioner noted that innovation leaders have to be very careful about the manner in which they discuss emerging threats (and opportunities) with their business partners. Leaders must be very careful to use what was called “empirical specificity” in such discussions. In other words, before beginning a discussion about an emerging threat or opportunity, an innovation leader must do their homework and be prepared to offer exact examples of actual cases where the threat/opportunity has actually taken place. Otherwise, the communication is ineffective and “Pollyannaish”.