Where is the innovation in American retail banking?

customer_innovation_in_banking

More than 150 nominations representing over 30 countries were received for the 2012 BAI-Finacle Global Banking Innovation Awards for breakthrough innovations that positively impact banks and their customers. Of these, 27 were from banks operating in the US and 4 from Canada.

The awards are designed to recognize banking organizations for game changing products, services and practices in retail banking. The award winners were selected by an independent international group composed of prominent industry thought-leaders, academics and retail banking professionals. The winners were announced on October 12, 2012.

The award for the Most Innovative Bank of the Year went to First National Bank in South Africa.  The Product and Service Innovation winner was the OCBC Bank, Singapore, the Channel Innovation award went to DenizBank, Turkey and the Disruptive Innovation in Banking award was won by Alior Bank in Poland.

Here’s how the judges described the First National Bank, a Division of FirstRand Limited:

“First National Bank was named as winner for its culture of innovation and advancement of retail banking. As part of their innovative culture, the bank holds an internal competition, called “Innovators,” that formally encourages and supports the process of innovation and related competencies. Business units within FNB are empowered to innovate through leadership buy-in and advocacy. As a retail banking institution, FNB takes a top down approach to innovation to embed it into the culture. It shows visible support of innovation through internal programs designed to develop new-to-the-world products and services that provide access to retail banking for all who want it. FNB’s commitment to innovation can best be seen through their annual contest – “Innovators”.

“Innovators” is a companywide initiative that supports and enables innovation with leadership buy-in and advocacy from the CEO and his direct reports. Winners of “Innovators” win real money (up to $120,000 USD) for innovations that meet the test, such as e-wallets and mobile phone offerings, which FNB is known for.

FNB encourages innovation at the lower levels of the organization, too, with its “Minivation” program, which rewards back office employees with “e-bucks” that they can redeem at FNB clients for suggesting more day-to-day, incremental improvements. A minivation is anything that takes less than three months to implement that provides some business benefit.

From an organizational strategy design perspective, there is a bias towards innovation in the FNB overall strategy in that it is both a strategic pillar and organizational value. FNB’s decentralized structure gives discretionary decision rights to business units who are enabled and encouraged to innovate. This top-down leadership and support evidenced through the sheer volume of innovations in all categories at FNB makes them The Most Innovative Bank of the Year. “

Of course, this is not the final word on innovation in American retail banking, but there was only one US bank finalist amongst the 12 finalists in the four categories suggesting that innovative practices can be learned from banks operating in other countries.

But what does successful innovation require?

Sustainable innovation, well described in the First National Bank case above, requires an embedded culture led from the top and supported and recognized at every level and in every group in the organization. To be successful, this innovative culture must incorporate behaviors that focus in 5 areas:

1)   Customer needs, especially foresight of future customer needs

2)  Competitive advantage, especially foresight of future competition

3)  Broader external changes, especially changes around the periphery of the industry

4)  Collaboration, especially internal  across functions and with external partners

5)   Alignment, especially innovation aligned with the company strategy

How innovative is your culture compared with your peers? Do you see strong behaviors noted above that are requirements for successful innovation in your business?

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