Class35: Why your corporate innovation process isn’t about innovation at all
Large corporates spen...
Nick Parminter is the CEO of Class35. Here he shares with us his top five digital transformation tips that won't get you fired:
Large corporates spend millions on innovation. They set up labs, carve out departments, hire agencies, invest in startups and launch beta businesses. Some would call this progress. But is it? How much of this innovation work is truly valuable and will see the light of day, nevermind move the dial?
It can be hard to measure the return on investment of innovation in a large company. The uptick in revenue or growth, or new customer acquisition, is equivalent in balance sheet impact to a rounding error for the megacorp mothership. The response from a lot of the most corporate of innovation functions has been to focus on some of the softer benefits of innovation - the harder to measure cultural or learning-centred outcomes. Realistically, innovation departments are a cost centre for most businesses.
No matter how much coverage innovation ventures get for projects for large firms, the internal response can be cynical at best. Colleagues at the coalface of day-to-day dealings with customers, and who spend their days protecting revenues, not thinking about the future, often don’t believe in the work of their more casually dressed colleagues. Perhaps understandably.
The resulting burden of justification has fundamentally skewed what innovation is and does within large companies. Such is the unconditional desire to ‘get things live’, what is described as an ‘innovation methodology’ is more akin to a product development methodology. That is, rather than follow a process that embraces uncertainty and is by its nature a search for a viable product or service, innovation departments fight to make ideas survive, no matter how flawed.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have received a brief, or come across a project, that is absolutely hellbent on pushing out a pilot, even before they have established if or how the product will make money or solve problems for their audience. Even more concerning is that, more often than not, the guinea pigs are family, friends and colleagues - not the target audience. These projects are quite literally testing ideas without a business model, value proposition or any sense of go-to-market strategy with a few mates, at considerable expense - just to be seen to be shipping new things.
The less cynical would argue that they are testing their ability to ship product, and in doing so, are dragging the business on a journey to work quicker and smarter. This would make sense, if the vast majority of these projects weren’t outsourced to agencies or consultancies, and with their roll off comes an almost complete whitewashing of the shortcuts and know-how.
The trendy thing in corporate innovation is describing a ‘venture-like’ process, where they run a bunch of initiatives side by side, and let the winners evolve. Project owners are expected to pitch their ideas for funding, just as they would in real life. This makes a lot of sense, and you needn’t look further than the venture funds that have spawned some of the most valuable companies in the world for validation of this approach.
There is, however, one fundamental difference between the ‘venture-style’ process that corporate incumbents adopt, versus the portfolio processes of funds. Whilst funds accept that 10% of their investments will be successful and the other 90% will provide key clues to backing the next winner, the corporate knock-offs are so concerned about ‘taking the business on a journey’ that they spin passable ‘maybes’ as winners.
If corporates really want to take a leaf out of the venture funds’ book, they should:
Let ideas fight
Once it’s clear what the objective is, i.e. which problem should be solved, the organisation must consider it from all angles. The chances of arriving at the right solution first are very slim.
Identifying a number of answers to any given problem and allowing them the time and space to compete with each other brings clarity. That may mean multiple competitive concepts addressing the same audience group or problem statement - even taking business from each other. You’ll be surprised what rises to the top in a live environment.
So often, ‘failing fast’ is taken to mean building new digital products, services or platforms as quickly as possible. It doesn’t mean that to funds and startups, so why should it to corporates?
It means learning something valuable as quickly as possible: a £25k ‘smoke test’ could tell you much more than a complete £500k platform. Launching a product is one way to learn, but there are many more.
Be selective with methodologies
The innovator’s toolkit is broad, and there are so many frameworks to choose from.
Don’t choose an approach because it’s the flavour of the month. Lean startup, design thinking, hypothesis-driven - all have a part to play. Focus on the best tools for the job. What you are trying to prove will lead you to the best method.
For example, a design sprint is great for understanding ‘jobs to be done’ and finding solutions for them, but won’t find you a viable idea off the bat.
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Logic is as powerful as insight
With the rise of a ‘customer-centric’ approach, logic has become a dirty discipline. The most dogmatic innovation teams won’t listen to any wisdom unless it comes directly from a customer’s mouth.
In reality, logic can take you a very long way. Sensible people can look at a challenge and highlight all the reasons why something may or not be successful. Are there any market barriers or structural opportunities that shape the proposition? What is the size of the prize? These are questions that no customer will ever answer for you.
Never underestimate go-to-market
The biggest killer of ideas and new businesses in the real world is a miscalculation of the complexities and costs of acquiring, retaining and serving customers. It’s no different in innovation projects.
No matter how deeply or widely felt the customer problem is, or how well-received a prototype is, nothing can answer the viability question other than a sensible calculation of customer value.
The irony? This data exists in every organisation, tacitly or otherwise. A startup would kill to have it, and yet so many innovation teams ignore it.
FIVE things fintechs must do to keep investors onboard
New investors flocked to the stock market during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty-eight percent of investors said they had never had a brokerage or similar account before opening one in 2020.
Low or no-fee trading options have helped accelerate the trend – nearly half of new investors said they accessed their account primarily through a mobile app. As FinTechs, how do we create the trust needed to keep new investors in the market and create a fruitful customer experience for them?
The financial industry does a disservice to individual investors if we merely offer tools that focus on making money quickly, an approach that usually backfires. Instead, the surge of interest presents an enormous opportunity for those who want to help more consumers use financial technology to educate them on responsible spending, saving, and investing in order to achieve financial wellness current fintech tools have welcomed individual investors in the door.
Now, it’s time to focus on education and improving their experience going forward. There are several ways those of us in fintech can step up to shape the future of retail investing so that it works better for everyone, starting with the following areas.
Equal access to financial wellness education
Financial health should be available to everyone — but today, not everyone has the educational resources to achieve it. One study shows that only 3.9% of students from low-income schools were required to take a personal finance class. What they aren’t learning in school or from family members, fintech companies can provide on their platforms.
The companies should move from solely offering financial services to a more responsible model of education, advice, and prescriptive choices to help consumers develop better habits and make wiser financial decisions. Not only can they empower consumers and bridge historical wealth divides, but they can also stimulate growth by opening up new consumer segments.
Just as we’ve come to expect that our fitness routines are tailored to our individual bodies, we’re also ready for finance tools that go beyond one-size-fits-all solutions. But only six percent of financial institutions say they’re using the kind of technology that allows them to deliver a deeply personalized experience. Fintech tools need to reflect that financial success looks different for each of us.
For one consumer, it may mean providing guidance on how to pay off student loans early; for another, it may mean prescriptive actions that enable them to stick to a budget for the first time; for a third, it could look like prioritizing environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments, so that her portfolio aligns with her political beliefs.
Now, we are seeing financial technology beginning to meet the demands of personalized finance in a substantial and meaningful way.
The rise of AI-Powered Advice
Big-picture advice and predictive guidance used to be a feature of high-end financial advisory firms — a perk only available to those who could afford it. But thanks to rapid advancements in data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), that kind of holistic advice is now more accessible than ever. AI-driven robo-advisors can parse many different streams of financial information, delivering customized answers to key questions: Is it time to buy a home, or is it smarter to keep renting? Can I afford to take out another student loan?
Intelligent connectivity powered by AI can anticipate consumers’ needs and next steps, making proactive suggestions that guide them along the path to financial wellbeing. Fintech companies can also help consumers identify when their financial picture becomes too complex for a robo-advisor, and help them find a human financial advisor to meet their needs.
Focus on financial mental health
New investors are quickly finding that the market can be overwhelming. That’s not surprising, financial anxiety is common and studies show that financial stress can have an impact on mental health for some.
It’s not enough for fintech companies to give retail investors access; they also must provide the guidance and support that help consumers manage their financial well-being. Educational tools can ensure that consumers are well informed about their options.
Predictive analytics can anticipate consumers’ questions, serving them key information and insights before they ask. Features that emphasize a comprehensive notion of financial well-being, rather than short-term wins and losses, can also help ensure that consumers are keeping their eyes on the bigger picture.
Gamification for good
The surge of gamification apps has done an impressive job making investing as engaging as playing a video game or joining a social media platform.
Much of the current use of gamification emphasizes short-term thinking, but there’s also an opportunity to help consumers think more broadly about their overall financial picture. One example is peer benchmarking, a feature that enables help consumers to see how their financial habits compare to those of friends and fellow consumers.
Gamification can also be used to incentivize making smaller, smarter choices — for example, rewarding saving over making an impulse buy.
The future of fintech is about more than just broadening access to the markets. It’s about making sure more individuals have access to the tools that can help improve their financial well-being—in the ways that suit their own circumstances and needs. The potential to act within their own set of individual priorities, with their long-term financial wellness in mind is much more empowering to a consumer than simply relying on short-term, high-risk investments.