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Innovation in banking: How problem solvers become pace setters

Jun 11, 2018 / Technology

And so this article begins: Where does one start with innovation anyway?

From a safe distance, the answer may seem bonehead simple. But never before in financial services has innovation—the concept as much as the practice—sparked so much interest, scrutiny and even hand wringing.

Some live in so much fear of failure that they don the actor’s mask and practice the artifice of innovation theater. Others see it as a glittering object they procure from some fintech, or a new product or service they can graft onto a long-standing legacy system.

And in a great many cases, innovation comes up in much more urgent fashion: one that often neuters rather than nurtures.

“Often it’s a business goal you have to accomplish—the next step from ‘I have to meet this target’ to ‘here’s how many more products I have to sell,’” says Amy Radin, co-founder and partner at Reinvent Partners. A Fortune 100 chief marketing and innovation officer, Radin wears many hats: change maker, marketing and innovation catalyst, startup advisor and board member.

Yet the better way forward isn’t too tough to grasp says Radin, a judge for this year’s BAI Global Innovation Awards, to be presented at BAI Beacon, Oct. 9-11 in Orlando, Florida. Also in the fall, Radin will release a new book, “The Change Maker’s Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation in Any Company.”

Says Radin: “The path I try to advocate is: Instead of turning inward, how can I solve unsolved problems that can help my clients? Ask what people struggle with and turn that into some prototypes. You want to solve problems in a way no one else does, so those people can become your customers.”

In reviewing the Global Innovation Awards finalists, Radin says this year’s standouts have definitely fit the bill as problem solvers.

“I really love, as with last year, how there’s so much work being put into impacting society more broadly,” she says. “Financial institutions have such an important role to play in financial betterment and reaching out to underserved populations.”

And more than ever, innovation on a global scale now hinges on how companies shape people’s lives, as opposed to merely influence them. Recently on LinkedIn, Radin shared Raymond Zhong’s New York Times piece about two Chinese companies—Tencent Holdings and the Alibaba Group—vying to dominate how 770 million internet users, to quote Zhong, “communicate, shop, get around, entertain themselves and even invest their savings and visit the doctor.”

Here’s what Radin shared online: “No doubt as a result of having visited Beijing last month, I am tuning in more to how Alibaba and Tencent have redefined the daily lives of the Chinese people—irrespective of demographics, mobile payments are the way to pay and are just the foundation for more innovation to come. “

As for how this translates to her vantage point as a Global Innovation Awards judge, “There’s a lot of opportunity to learn from other markets, to challenge your thinking and help you reframe,” Radin says. “One of the best ways to find great ideas is to look outside your market. Maybe you can’t cut and paste it because the regulations or ways people handle money there are different. But you can certainly find fresh insights that you can use to create change.”

There are other ways to glean valuable insights and get out in front—many of them behavioral. Here are four key suggestions from Radin’s innovation arsenal:

  • Reframe. “Look at things differently and see something not as an obstacle, but an opportunity,” Radin says. “How do you see a way through rather than run the gantlet? Maybe that means revisiting how you—and can you—influence people at the senior level of the organization to help you.”
  • Balance tinkering with opportunity. Radin is based in the greater New York City area, not far from Thomas Edison’s laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey. This inspires her—and not only for Edison’s prodigious track record as inventor and innovator. “He was also incredibly commercially minded and followed a process for creating market value. He also understood that there needed to be space—physical, emotional, mental—where people could try things out. Edison was all about innovation for commercial value.”
  • Prepare to go the extra mile beyond the extra mile. Financial innovation does not equal hitting the lottery after a presentation or two in the Silicon Valley. “Are you willing to walk over hot coals for a good long time to prove the idea and deal with all the complexities and ambiguities and ordeals? So much of this comes back to leadership, mindset and solving a problem. A lot of startups start with a problem that the founder had themselves.”
  • Be passionate and resourceful. Especially when financial resources or departmental budgets are tight, these qualities can see innovators through to true breakthroughs. Radin cites the story of a friend building a medical device prototype to protect people who fall from getting injured.His first prototype was created from air bags he found in a junk yard and had a tailor stitch together,” Radin recalls. “To me that is so inspirational; he had the passion and even with the limited resources he found a way to do it. You’re proving something is even possible. Letting people see you are driven and passionate gets others on board.

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Lou Carlozo is the managing editor of BAI and host of the BAI Banking Strategies podcast.

Find out more about the BAI Global Innovation Awards.