What Does 2013 Hold For Financial Services IT?

Several people asked me recently about how 2013 would look like for IT professionals in the financial industry. Here are my thoughts, inspired by the 2012 Innotribe events and network.

If you’re a CIO/CTO in financial services, you probably have something like the following in your objectives –

  • flat budget
  • long list of regulation related “must do’s”
  • drive innovation to deliver tangible new value to internal and external customers
  • continue delivering operational excellence

In other words, 2013 budgets reflect on one hand a continuing focus on fiscal caution, and on the other hand the necessity to invest for the future.

I’ve gathered from my talks with CIOs in various financial companies – and indeed my own (SWIFT) – the ratio of maintenance vs investment has changed. What used to be a 90/10 budget (90% for maintenance and operations, 10% for new projects) has now shifted towards 80/20 or even 70/30. That means serious money for innovation.

The first area of innovation will be related to regulation. How to cope with the inevitable and increasing requirements, while keeping the budget equation balanced? I think cloud computing will probably emerge as a best adapted tool. Regulation lends itself to be, by nature, a shared effort – everyone must comply to the same rule. Therefore, why implement this over and over in every financial institution – why not use a shared resource? A good example of this is the recently launched Sanctions Screening service from SWIFT (http://www.swift.com/products/sanctions_screening). This service checks payments against public sanctions lists for the banks who subscribe to it. I think there is a major opportunity for more services such as this one, and a large number of potential suppliers out there.

The other areas of innovation will be driven by technology change in mobile computing, social media and “big data” analytics.

Most financial institutions are playing catchup right now with respect to mobile computing – I expect frantic investment in 2013 to go into easy to use, mobile based front end to replace the more traditional web based home banking systems. It’s a “no-brainer”, and this gameplan will essentially be about choosing the right partner (outsourcing or ad-hoc) to deliver – delivering this in-house is seldom an option.

The challenge for 2013 will be about formulating the gameplan for a truly innovative customer experience. This is not only about technology, it is really about a mindset change. Going from “captured consumers” into “empowered consumers”. The clever use of social media and “big data” analytics (analyzing massive amounts of customer related data to gather new insights) will be key in differentiating the offerings and gaining traction with the “digitally native” generation (people under 30 today).  I’ve seen some pioneering examples of this at Fidor bank (www.fidor.de), who rely heavily on social media for new customer acquisition, and Movenbank (www.movenbank.com) who use big data analytics to compute financial health scores.

Finally, it is going to be important in 2013 to map the future. Where does the “empowered consumer” road ultimately lead? One interesting idea I saw in the context of Innotribe is the “Digital Asset Grid” (http://innotribe.com/digital-assets/) – a new internet where consumers own their digital assets (valuable data such as a person’s eBay reputation), and where digital assets can be shared safely and securely. The banks may have a major role to play. It will be important to incubate this – and other – ideas related to the digital banking of the future.

(also posted on ComputerWeekly.com)

Innovation + Tribe = Innotribe! The Perfect DJ Mix

This is a guest post by Peter Vander Auwera, one of the co-founders, with me, of Innotribe. The post was first published on the Management Innovation eXchange  as a submission for M-Prize. I reproduce it here as I think it’s a great summary of what Innotribe is all about.

Giving the floor to Peter-


Launched in 2009, Innotribe www.innotribe.com is SWIFT’s initiative to enable collaborative innovation in financial services. Innotribe fosters creative thinking in financial services, through debating the options (at Innotribe events) and supporting the creation of innovative new solutions (through the Incubator, Startup Challenge and Proof of Concepts).


SWIFT www.swift.com is a member-owned cooperative that provides the communications platform, products and services to connect more than 10,000 banking organisations, securities institutions and corporate customers in 212 countries and territories. SWIFT enables its users to exchange automated, standardised financial information securely and reliably, thereby lowering costs, reducing operational risk and eliminating operational inefficiencies. SWIFT also brings the financial community together to work collaboratively to shape market practice, define standards and debate issues of mutual interest.


The initial triggers for having a specific innovation focus and creating a dedicated tem was driven by both product and culture requirements.

Product: A good example of a product requirement was the need for a product for low volume customers. Typically, existing products targeted the top and medium segment of our customers, but we did not really have a product for low volume customers. A black-belt team was formed and delivered a brand new product in one-year time. The team not only revamped the product functionality, but also revised fundamentally the buying experience, on-boarding, pricing model, and business UI experience.

Culture: Given the nature of its business, SWIFT has a strong company culture of “Failure-Is-Not-An-Option” (FNAO). Although this culture was inspired on the Apollo 13 mission, where the NASA team would do “whatever it takes” to get the three astronauts back from space, and learning from mistakes, over the years the FNAO mantra was at times misinterpreted as a culture of no-risk taking, not coming up with ideas challenging the status quo, not daring to step forward. We wanted to create a culture where “failing smart” was accepted. To that end, we created a number of tools and techniques to enable collaborative innovation. One example is our own “sandbox”. The concept is introduced on Kosta Peric’s Forbes blog here. Kosta is SWIFT’s Head of Innovation, and has documented the history and activities of Innotribe in a recently published book “The Castle and the Sandbox” available here.

The sandbox is an “incubator” – a protected place where people with ideas can “play”, or to try out their ideas, without impacting the castle. The “castle” is the metaphor for the mothership, the core of the company. The incubator is the place where you can try, experiment, fail, try again, fail again, and eventually learn and succeed.

We also offer tools to the SWIFT employees like Idea Challenges, Brown Bags, Hackatons, and internal TEDx-like events to encourage team members to learn from the edges, to step forward and to reward initiative.


Innovation team started in 2007 when the new CEO came on board

  • Prototyping was introduced when one of the innovators challenged an executive on a proposed new product line. The executive agreed in funding 2 competing prototype teams, one for his own idea and one for the idea of the innovator. Each team had to pitch their idea and prototype head to head in front of the full executive team. To the surprise of many, the prototype of the innovator won.
  • Initially, the innovation team was seen as a fast product development shop where the end deliverables were software products. Black-Belt teams were formed per product, and end-to-end delivery cycles were reduced from 3-5 year to 1 year.
  • End 2008, based on an in-depth internal customer review, the scope of the team was re-defined as an unit within the company for enabling collaborative innovation
  • The Innotribe brand was launched in 2009 during SWIFT’s flagship event “Sibos” in Hong-Kong.
  • Initial focus of the revamped Innotribe was on idea generation and creating serendipities

By end 2010, we had in place:

  • An innovation framework based on open innovation;
  • A portfolio of tools and techniques for internal (SWIFT as a company and ecosystem) and external (the financial industry at large) innovation. Most of these tools and techniques were used to create the initial tribe and ideation for the open innovation pipeline;
  • A group of internal ambassadors, called “megaphones”;
  • A successful event and facilitation practice
  • In 2011, the Incubator and the worldwide start-up challenge were added to the mix and we further scaled and perfected our existing tools and techniques. The incubation phase was particularly important as for the first time we had a multi-million dollar fund for investing in promising innovations.
  • By end 2011, our Innotribe “brand” was considered the most important brand SWIFT launched in the last 30 years.
  • In 2012, we explored the Acceleration phase to progress the most promising incubation ideas through different forms of co-investment.
  • In 2013, we will continue and further increase our innovation efforts, with a greater focus on the core activities of the company for internal innovation, and exploring novel funding models for our external innovation.
  • In 2013, we will also experiment with “Innovation Journeys”, a model for enabling business units to win though co-ideation, co-creation, co-delivering. We also plan to complement our existing toolset with scenario planning and story-telling.

Here are some of the key implementation challenges that had to be overcome:

CEO as sponsor is instrumental:

  • When a new CEO came on board in 2007, he made it crystal clear that innovation was one of his big bets.
  • A CEO can make or break the innovation agenda, and set the direction and ambition for disruptive innovation or not.
  • A CEO “protects” the innovators from anti-bodies who try to fight change.
  • A CEO can “force” certain innovation projects to go ahead.
  • A CEO can open the door for skip-level meetings to have a direct contact with what’s happening in the field

Executive alignment. Having the CEO as sponsor is one thing, having the whole Executive Team (and the subsequent hierarchies) aligned is another thing.

  • In 2008, the company engaged in a company wide “Lean” efficiency exercise. Part of the methodology includes an internal customer satisfaction survey: it became clear that the executive team was not aligned on the mission of the innovation team. Expectations ranged from a pure R&D shop to a facilitating unit.
  • The Lean methodology facilitated clarity on the direction of the innovation team: it was collectively agreed that the mission was to enable collaborative innovation.
  • Any company wide program with executive attention is a great opportunity for getting executive alignment on innovation.

The concept of “enablers”.

  • The incubation projects are funded by the Incubation Fund, a 100% SWIFT Fund.
  • To help us deciding where we put our funds, a group of “enablers” was created. This is a group of senior leaders from our industry ànd from outside our industry. They have been selected for their authority and influence as persons, not necessarily because of the organization they represent.
  • The role of the “enablers” is to “enable” incubation projects. This is NOT a killing committee or gating process to say “no”. It’s a group of wise people saying “yes” to projects and bringing enabling assets to the table such as contacts, experiences, trend validation, etc

Megaphones iterations.

  • Very early on we started with the idea of “Megaphones”, some sort of internal innovation ambassadors in different departments of the company.
  • In the initial version, megaphones were “volunteered”, their mandate was unclear and their management was not motivated or incentivized.
  • In version 3.0 we got it more or less “right”: we have a novel and very transparent megaphones recruitment campaign, megaphones now have a clear mandate, spend 15% of their time on innovation related activities, and this is part of their objectives, and signed-off at the begin of the year by their managers.

The importance of communication.

  • If there is one big recommendation it is “communicate like hell”. If “they” don’t know what you do, they can’t support it, they can’t leverage it, and they can’t sponsor it.
  • Although we were doing a lot of the right things, not many people in the company really knew what we were doing. When we were dumping at the end of the year the list of our activities, many people were surprised of all the things that went on.
  • For external communication we struggled for finding the appropriate bandwidth from our own communications department. The good intentions were there, not the bandwidth. In the end we mutually agreed with our communications department to hire our own external communications agency. For internal communication, we gave one person in the team that responsibility, and we leverage as much existing communication channels like our corporate intranet, Yammer and Chatter.

Being creative with funding.

  • When coming up with new ideas, we heard several times an enthusiastic “yes, you should do that, but you have to stay in your existing budget”. So we explored alternative ways of funding such as sponsorship. 
  • A good example here is our Start-Up Challenge that has become fully self-sustainable through sponsoring. This Start-Up Challenge is probably one of the most visible initiatives now of Innotribe. In 2012 more than 600 start-up companies were screened during 3 regional competitions (one for the Americas, one for EMEA and one for APAC), and the two winners get away with a 50K$ cash price. The basic objective of this initiative is to bridge the gap between the start-up community and the heads of innovation of the financial industry. Success story: Mastercard acquired the winner of the 2011 edition in 2012 for 40M $.

Financial: own P/L

  • Our best motivation is when third parties pro-actively approach the Innotribe team and ask whether they can buy our services.
  • In 2012, we had our first innovation consulting and facilitation contracts.
  • Some of the challenges we had were related to accounting of these new revenue and cost streams. In a bigger corporation, it is not so self-evident to create a different P/L and decide what revenues and costs have to be allocated to that new P/L. To be continued…

Legal/Governance: by-laws of the company

  • SWIFT is a non-profit co-operative. Certain innovation ideas that are for profit and/or for the benefit of only a subset of the community would require a change in the by-laws of the company.
  • The governance of the company is based on a long tradition of customer consultation and consensus making. For example, our 10,000+ members are represented through 160+ National Member Groups. Consultation takes time, and sometime we want to move faster. We have learned to live with some of these constraints, to choose our battles, and remain passionate, perseverant and patient.

The benefits of Innotribe can be clustered in to three “Impact” vectors: brand, revenue, and people

  • Brand
    • The Innotribe-brand has a strong positive effect on the overall SWIFT-brand. During our 2011 Innotribe at Sibos event in Toronto, our CEO referred to the Innotribe brand as the “strongest brand SWIFT has produced in the last 30 years”
      • The Innotribe-brand is omni-present at internal and external SWIFT events
      • Our design and facilitation techniques create an immersive learning experience
      • Our curation expertise brings the finest speakers, igniters and subject matter experts to our staff and to our community
      • Customers declare it is “their” Innotribe
      • All our activities are appreciated for their freshness, deep design philosophy, and accessibility.
      • The brand reflects innovation, collaboration, youth, dynamism, and novelty.
    • The Innotribe brand is now strong enough to attract dedicated sponsoring, and initial explorations with an own P&L. We are humble enough in knowing that our brand is and will get a substantial part of its value from the connection with the “mothership” SWIFT.
  • Revenue
    • From very early on in the Innotribe history, we are getting challenged on the tangibility of our deliverables, how much they contribute to the company strategy and how much they contribute to the revenue objectives.
    • It is not always easy to find a fine balance between seeing innovation as a means for supporting short-term sales objectives, and innovation as a means to re-define the agenda.
    • A great success story is one of the incubation projects “MyStandards”. As one of the first true incubation ”sandbox” projects, a dedicated team with its own scrum master delivered a new product in one year time, with first paying customers and revenue contribution 3 months after production launch.
  • People
    • Our internal innovation activities touched more than 50% of the company during face-to-face meetings, workshops, events, and facilitation assignments.
    • More than 10% of the staff participated in our innovation challenges
    • Several ideas from the challenge have been implemented
    • But we feel we have to communicate better, at all levels: senior management, middle management, and the workforce at large.

Metrics used

  • Most of our metrics are quantitative and in essence about influence: we measure people reached, number of events, number of facilitations, number of ideas, velocity of ideas from ideation phase to incubation phase, etc
  • We regularly perform NPS (Net Promoter Scorecard) surveys. Participants to our events are very satisfied; non-participants (those who never attended) are skeptical and give us lower scores. Another reason why communication is so important
  • We are not (yet) measured on revenue contribution, but we start feeling the heat in the general crisis-climate of the financial industry, with a tendency to proving short team bottom-line results.

We have also seen some unintended side-effects

  • Tribe behavior. Our events are really special: we architect serendipities and immersive learning experiences. We create connections at people/human level. Our customers love it. We see tribe behavior – like fans for life, groupies – and return customers, who come back only for the Innotribe vibe and connections.
  • We did not plan for it, but in 2012 we are seeing the first customers – both from inside and outside our industry – soliciting us for paid facilitation, consultation and event services.
  • We are also very much in demand by our internal departments. This creates capacity challenges. The biggest challenge is to remain focused and dare to say no. We also have decided to do certain internal/external engagements only against a fee and covered T&E.

Here are some of the most important lessons that other organizations should learn from our Innotribe experience.

Communicate like hell: it’s extremely important to communicate what you do.

  • Hire a PR agency fully dedicated to your external communication. Design with them a communications plan, plan press events, plan regular press interviews, invite press to your events. Use social media tools like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Yammer, Chatter, etc
  • It may sound obvious, but have a website explaining what you do, what your methods and tools are, what your deliverables are: this should be the landing page for press and other communication contacts.
  • Appoint at least one person responsible for internal communication. Communicate everything: success stories and lessons learned. Celebrate experimentation, celebrate success. Have small ceremonies for winners of internal challenges. Organise brownbags, hackatons, special staff events

Think in terms of an “Innovation Portfolio”

  • We recommend you start thinking in terms of an “innovation portfolio”, highlighting how many projects and/or how many budget you will allocate to different areas of innovation: innovation in the core, adjacencies, new functionalities, new territories aka disruptive innovation. 
  • Make sure you have some quick wins in core and adjacencies; it will help you getting credibility for doing more disruptive stuff later.
  • Keep fighting for disruptive, don’t get complacent or discouraged, it is your mission to challenge the status quo relentlessly.

Accept craziness, stealth work, but capitalize on what works

  • Innovators do things differently: withhold some ideas that initially sound crazy or impossible.
  • Stealth work. Sometimes you have to walk on thin ice and do actions behind the scenes that are not fully in line with the script or standard procedures. This does not need to be done in secrecy: you can do stealth work in full transparency with your Head of Innovation and your CEO.

Passion, Perseverance, Patience

  • Innovation is challenging the status quo. Many people in your organization don’t like change. They will challenge you. They will fight you. Just accept this as part of the job. Don’t get too frustrated too much by it. And if it gets too much, get yourself a trusted friend with whom you can share your frustration, and get on with it.
  • Your passion is infectious and viral. Talk to as many as possible people in your organization and keep the conversation going. When they see the passion in your eyes and your irresistible enthusiasm, they will follow.
  • Don’t “force” innovation but do “coach” and enable innovation. The metaphor is that of a parent learning a child to bicycle: at a certain moment, you have to release, let the child experiment and fail until it can bike on its own. 
  • Be patient. Sometimes you have to live with the constraints of your organization, and accept it will take time to get where you want to be
  • Innovation is human business

Stay fresh, fun and accessible

  • Almost forgotten, but have fun 😉 Whatever you do, it must have certain lightness, freshness in it.
  • Design surprises/disruptions in the flow of your brainstorms, events, and facilitations. Make people experiment with their hands and build physical things, metaphors: they will love it and smile.
  • We design our events on purpose with some “un-polishedness”: we have learned that if what you do is too polished, too finished, you create distance and you don’t leave much room for input and creativity.

This post/submission is only possible because we have a fantastic team building Innotribe into what it is today. Petervan – the submitter of this story – is just one of the team members. Kosta Peric, Head of Innovation SWIFT, heads the team. Key team members are: Mela Atanassova, Martine Deweirdt, Muriel Dewingaerden, Greet Michiels, Karen Declerck, Matteo Rizzi, Nektarios Liolios, Dominik Debuyser.

We would not be where we are without the support of Lazaro Campos (the CEO who put the innovation team in place in 2007) and his successor Gottfried Leibbrandt who has been a sponsor since day one.

We also would like to extend credits to “the tribe”. We feel honored and humbled they consider us as “their” Innotribe.

Innovation, Open Innovation, Tribe, Events, Start-Up Challenge, Incubator, Facilitation, Architects of Serendipity

More information about Innotribe can be found in following resources:

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