I’ve always felt that reporters and editors have some of the best vantage points in the house. Our job, as one of my mentors put it, is to occupy and use wisely our “front row seat to history.” That’s certainly my goal as managing editor at BAI; on many fronts, we’re all witnessing the most dynamic of times in financial services history.
In that sense, I consider editing BAI Banking Strategies and hosting its podcast a double blessing. I get to talk with many financial services leaders and pass their insights on to you in hopes of making a difference. I get to hear what’s on their minds—what they’re proud of and where they struggle.
They admire the user experience of Amazon and Uber but want a relationship with their customers far beyond a quick digital transaction. They explore ways to attract millennials and retain baby boomers, without alienating either. They strive to cut the friction in online account creation—something consumers want—but also to meet their demands to bolster data security.
And they want customers to view them as stable while they disrupt the industry.
How’s that for a to-do list?
No quick fix can solve any of these issues, but a similar starting point addresses them all: innovation.
That is why the BAI Global Innovation Awards matter to me, and everyone at BAI. It also makes me happy to announce that BAI is now accepting submissions for the 2019 BAI Global Innovation Awards.
We’re in our ninth year of inviting financial services organizations from all over the planet to show us what they've created and achieved. That amounts to hundreds of submissions to discover the real deal: Innovation that works.
Our 2018 awards stressed a theme we will only amplify this year—that the nominees and winners have gifted us with blueprints we can replicate and build upon for the greater good of an industry. Thus the products and programs that we will honor in 2019 are bound to amaze but will never sit behind a velvet rope.
“True innovation,” says BAI President and CEO Debbie Bianucci, “means a commitment to moving the ball forward, day after day, year after year.”
So what do these innovations from across the world look like? Here are just two examples. In our People's Choice category for 2018, we honored Bank of America for the Erica chatbot, as advanced a consumer-facing display of artificial intelligence as exists in banking today. For Innovative Touchpoints & Connected Services, Spain's CaixaBank took home top honors for its CaixaBank Now App. It ties together personal finance, banking needs and the ability to navigate between the bank's different apps with a single log in.
And depending on the region of the world, technological innovation will manifest itself in different ways, says Alex Sion, global consumer banking lead for Citi Venture’s D10X.
“As a BAI Global Innovation Awards judge, I’ve definitely seen how the tool sets are the same: using streams and types of data to provide client insights, or the ability to deliver experiences in real time,” Sion says. “But the play books [and results] are very different.”
That’s not to say innovation is merely a matter of shiny new toys—far, far from it. In 2018, we recognized two winners for Innovation in Societal and Community Impact. One was Rukula (PVT) Limited in Sri Lanka, which created a revolutionary credit program for small consumer durables to help the nation’s financially excluded. The other, USAA in San Antonio, developed an aerial imagery tool that allowed its customers to see their homes, and any damage they sustained, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Answering the call of worried customers, USAA got the web page up and running in less than 24 hours.
Again: tool sets from a common toolkit (technology) but playing out in entirely different ways appropriate to the given geographical location and its challenges.
Since long before I joined BAI, innovation has been my passion, purpose and single biggest source of career joy. I care deeply enough about it to know (or at least think I know) the slight of hand from innovation made real.
Take "innovation theater," a stratagem of smoke and mirrors with PowerPoint decks, dead-end brainstorming sessions and highfalutin’ talk. Or "the innovation petting zoo," where organizations send emissaries to conferences and high-tech hotbeds to do lots of looking and touching, but end up with nothing to show for it after months of endless rumination back home.
Rumination, last time I checked, does not equal innovation.
Just as you cannot fake when the lightbulb goes off, real innovation must not contain itself to a blueprint or a vision. They're wonderful things in and of themselves, but banks must follow through. Yes, that ultimately boosts the bottom line. Let’s not forget, though, that the result also supports everyone the industry serves: customers, of course, but also our employees, small business owners, the underbanked and the unbanked.
While we call them the BAI Global Innovation Awards, you're welcome to see them as laurels of inspiration. Invigoration. Invention. Signposts to the kind of concrete change that moves mountains, shifts paradigms and changes ways of thinking.
We also invite you to submit nominations in the name of another institution or your own. BAI looks forward to reviewing them. We want to know where you stand (or sprint) in leading the industry into the future.
And for my own part, I’d love to see more history—your history—in the making.
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Lou Carlozo is the managing editor of BAI.
To find out more about the BAI Global Innovation Awards or submit your innovation, visit our website. Nominations close Friday, April 26, 2019.