“What is innovation?” The universal nature of that question sparks many a debate. But there can be no denying where to find the innovation universe itself: It spans the entire planet. Of course, that means a virtually limitless playing field. But star players in financial services share a common characteristic, says Debbie Bianucci, President and CEO, BAI.
“True innovation means a commitment to moving the ball forward, day after day, year after year,” says Bianucci, who's also a judge for the BAI Global Innovation Awards. Bianucci represents the Americas in the Innovation Circle, a select panel of judges and advisors from around the world.
“BAI has always had a focus on forward thinking in the industry, and for the past seven years we have recognized that thinking through the awards,” she notes. “We’ve seen definite changes over time, including the strategic importance of innovation itself.”
So what does innovation look like in 2017, and how did the Global Innovation Awards judges approach their collective mission to find and honor the best of the best? With the winners being honored Wednesday, October 4, at BAI Beacon in Atlanta, we spoke with judges to get their views on what makes for an innovator defined –and how this year’s competition further crystallized their definitions of innovation.
Seeing the "I" in innovation
Ricardo Campos, Senior Director for Digital Banking, Bank Millennium S.A. (Europe)
"The visible shift in innovations today versus yesterday’ is that they are increasingly more focused on the user of those innovations than on the technology itself," Campos says. "While in the past users had to adapt to the new technology, today we see technology adapting to the user."
To that end, Campos sees a growing awareness of FinTech's dependence on the human element--both in process and product. "The awareness of the human capital in the innovation process is taking shape and I think it was already visible in the number of applications that strongly highlighted the impact on the user rather than the characteristics of the technology.
Innovation via collaboration
Paul Steenkamp, Founder, I am Jack Frost (Africa)
With this year's Global Innovation Awards, "The breakthrough collaboration entries were inspiring," Steenkamp says. "The line that divides the inside from the outside of companies is blurring. We need to work together to understand these value exchange networks and the different ways financial services companies can participate. Government, labor, NGOs, firms and entrepreneurs are coming together to explore these new models of service."
Speaking of service, "It was affirming to see how many entries supported objectives beyond those of the entering organization--including shared regional, national, continental and even global objectives," Steenkamp adds.
FinTech and TECS
Sandeep Deobhakta, Division Head - Head of Retail Banking, VP Bank (Asia-Pacific)
The acronym TECS stands for telecoms, e-commerce platforms and social media/messaging platforms, and Deobhakta sees them as game changers for a host of reasons. "The TECS have large numbers of users and are creating payment platforms like never before," he points out. "Banks must plug into this ecosystem and partner. I believe that in Asia, we're seeing a fundamental shift and I’m quite convinced that the TECS will be the dominant players in the personal financial services space in Asia and other emerging markets."
As for the pace at which industry innovation moves today, "In my opinion we as incumbents aren’t moving fast enough," he contends. "We need to see a lot more pace and a real—as against, superficial—shift in how the incumbents operate."
Vikram Krishna, Executive Vice President, Head of Group Marketing & Customer Experience, Emirates NBD (Middle East)
"Innovation today is a script that is getting rewritten every day," Krishna notes. "For example, just when banks started innovating on touch ID, Apple launched facial recognition, which shall perhaps soon become the new norm for establishing identity." And yet while technology can now see faces, it's up to the industry to see their customers—and their staff members—as real people with essential needs.
"Banking has always been about people and shall always be," Krishna says. "Any successful bank's most prized asset is not its balance sheet, but the people who power it and the cultures that empower employees to innovate. … Most successful nominations were able to demonstrate that they were useful and made a tangible difference to customer’s life.”
“Less whacky, more focused”
Ed Carrell, Managing Director, Group Innovation Head of Strategic Partnerships and Advanced Capabilities, Barclays PLC (Europe)
This year's Global Innovation Awards entries were "less whacky, more focused," Carrell says. "From my perspective this has both positive and negative impacts: The innovations seemed to be generally very focused and targeted to delivering improved client outcomes with measurable impacts. This is great, but the other side of the coin was a noticeable lack of truly disruptive initiatives."
Like Steenkamp, Carrell sees collaboration as a key to exponential innovation in the years to come, yet not automatic due to the possibility of distinct operational differences. "Working in partnership is a real challenge for firms," he points out. "It requires change in outlook, culture and internal process and governance. That change isn’t easy, and those who make it—even baby steps—deserve huge recognition. They are the pioneers."
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Lou Carlozo in the managing editor of BAI; Angela Hills is BAI’s manager, events and strategic programs.