Financial technology companies popularly known as FinTechs are financial institutions (FIs) that are intentionally biased towards enabling superior customer convenience through the use of technology with an increasingly seamless and remote user experience (UX). With this customer-centric approach to business, they have superior “speed-to-market” with new products and enhancements to same.
Evidently, they are quite unlike traditional banks (incumbents) which are largely institutions that have been in existence for many years or run banking models similar to those that have. These incumbents have evolved over time to become the complex giants they are today and with complexity comes bureaucracy. However, the speed of competition will make bureaucratic cultures very unsustainable going forward.
That’s where innovation comes in. Being the large institutions that they are, incumbents have all the resources for innovation; the ideas are within them, they reside in their people. How is that so? It only makes sense that those who go through the motions of the business; interacting daily with the external environment and customers, frequently have their innovative muscle stretched in many ways. What’s more, humans by nature have a creative mind. Our homes, cities and gadgets are a testament to that but unfortunately, this capability is largely untapped, especially in the workplace.
In many organizations, you’ll find that only a few people if any, are innovative towards their daily responsibilities. Those few are innovative because they are engaged, their minds are connected to the organization and consequently, keep exercising their innovative muscle.
There are a myriad of things that incumbents could do to get their people engaged; key amongst them is creating an enabling environment and that resonates with an agile organization. Agile refers to nimbleness, dynamism and adaptability to change.
According to Mckinsey & Company, “an agile organization (designed for both stability and dynamism) is a network of teams within a people-centred culture that operates in rapid learning and fast decision cycles which are enabled by technology, and that is guided by a powerful common purpose to co-create value for all stakeholders”.
A FinTech in its purest sense would be an epitome of an agile organization. This largely follows from an overarching customer-centric approach to business; “if this is what our customers prefer, let’s modify what exists, if it doesn’t exist, how about we create it?” In their bid to innovate like FinTechs, incumbents could adopt some traits of agile organizations as follows:
- Pro-ambiguity: Unchartered territory is considered an opportunity to reap first mover advantage rather than treacherous grounds to be wary of. With this approach, team members are encouraged to suggest ideas that may require more brain power rather than the modus operandi. Ambiguity is the bread of agility, it exercises the innovative muscle of your people.
- Agreeable leadership: This could be as simple as saying “yes, and…” rather than “yes, but…” Agile teams are emotionally intelligent; recognizing diversity within teams and appreciating what everyone brings to the table. This does not mean a blind “yes” to every idea but tacitly improving weak ideas and openly celebrating strong ones. By this, the fear of rejection is minimized and your people would freely express themselves.
- Product or service ownership: A key feature of agile teams is that they take ownership of the product or service they deliver. With these teams, the outcome of their work is more important than the process because the process evolves over time and they relish the learnings from these iterations. Product ownership could be incorporated into training programs to obtain the emotional investment of your people.
- Multidisciplinary skillsets: The exact opposite of siloed organizations is what agile represents. It encourages multidisciplinary learning across functions. Not necessarily learning the technical details of all departments but gaining a working knowledge of the various products and functions such that for example, Credit staff can cross-sell suitable Remittance products to their travelling customers. Such capabilities enrich the UX and enhance customer retention.
- Quick and efficient decision making: McKinsey & Company couldn’t have explained this any better; “Agile organizations emphasize quick, efficient, and continuous decision making, preferring 70 percent probability now versus 100 percent certainty later”. Evidently, this could be nerve-wracking for any manager or product owner.
Notwithstanding, in the near future, lengthy bureaucratic cycles could cost banks millions in forfeited revenue. In fact long bureaucratic cycles cause decision fatigue resulting in depleted decision quality. Agile organizations act on workable ideas without necessarily having a 100 percent certainty that the whole end to end process will be a cruise.
Innovation in any institution begins with their people. If they are personally and emotionally engaged, they will proactively identify changes in the business ecosystem, internal processes and most importantly, customer preferences and will respond to them swiftly; this is at the heart of innovating like a FinTech.
Aghina, W. and Handscomb, C. (2018), How to select and develop individuals for successful agile teams: A practical guide [online] Mckinsey.
Ernst & Young (2017). Customer experience: innovate like a FinTech. [pdf]
>>>The author is a FinTech enthusiast and demonstrates his passion through public education on aspects like innovation in financial services, blockchain distributed ledger technology and participation in related communities. He is an alumnus of the University of Oxford Fintech Executive Education Programme and has a wealth of financial services audit experience working for a ‘Big Four’ accounting firm in Ghana. Reach out to him on LinkedIn: Philip Twum