So You're Innovative: What Next?

A common misconception I have come across in my career is that banking is completely void of innovation.

Some believe that coded into a banker's DNA are attributes like risk-aversion, conservatism, and compliance, while the chromosome required to grow great ideas is found more in jeans-and-sneaker wearing technology and advertising boffins, and less in buttoned-down bean-counters.

When I re-studied management & administration field in my bba from bharia, I walked back into something unique.

The challenge that I found is one that applies to all established businesses that now rely heavily on innovation to win new and engage existing customers. It is, ensuring everyone inside your business can keep pace with the new products and services continually being developed. It sounds so simple and fundamental, but many businesses large and small frequently omit this vital step in the process.

A simple example: we used to focus on around two to three major product launches each year, giving all our people - and most importantly, our customer-facing people - time to become fully conversant with how an innovation or new product or service would make a customer's life easier, or better. We recognised that a key piece in the customer journey jigsaw was our frontline staff who 'sell' customers on these services, and those everyday customers are the ones that ensure its success - or not.

These days, innovation has ramped up and the digital landscape has changed dramatically: we're dropping something new to our customers around every six weeks. In the mobile space alone we are overrun with good ideas - more than half of people who access their bank accounts electronically are now doing so on a mobile device. And we know our competitors are hard at work on the same thing: new figures from the world suggest the bulk of banks now have an innovation strategy, while 77 per cent have increased spending on innovative new products and services - a considerable leap from just a few years ago.

The question remains, however: how many of these organisations boosting their innovation budgets have factored in bringing all staff in the business along for the ride? Given the sheer amount of technological disruption most staff, especially sales staff, encounter these days, a great deal more attention needs to be paid to better internal communication. And not just communication, but building enthusiasm: 'selling' the innovation to your staff/Students the same way as you might to customers.

The companies that have really excelled in communicating and embedding an excitement around technology and its benefits are, of course, the Apple, Google and Amazons of the world. These companies have an advantage off the bat in the sense that their teams are often already highly technology-conversant. They are already ‘digital savvy’.

Bankers are typically from a wide range of ages and technological abilities; some of our very best frontline people have been in banking for decades. Their roles are hugely varied and demanding; they must be empathetic listeners, specialists, financial and business advisors, problem solvers and number crunchers, whatever the situation demands. On top of that, they now have to be knowledgeable about technology and mobile apps and how they can make someone's life easier.

They may be very open to everything new, and yet they may also struggle with the sheer pace of change happening around them. And so, this is the leadership challenge we face : to ensure that all levels of people doing any number of jobs 'get' innovation, understand why it is necessary, recognise what it will (and won't) do for customers, and then ask them to pack it into their customer service toolkit with confidence and with pride.

Because even bankers with conservative DNA can, I believe, step up to evangelise the life enhancing technologies that are making it simpler and easier than ever before for customers to engage with their finances.


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