We asked a question of our advisory board related to financial services incumbent innovation. What is your point of view on incumbents in financial services and how they can innovate? We got some wonderful insight from their answers.
Innovation is about where you can automate the greatest dissatisfaction that earns you the permission to take on the other parts of the business.
Incumbents need to innovate or die. They need to cannibalize their own business to be disruptive.
Many incumbents suffer when they believe they have arrived at their end state. There is never an end state, just the current state. I believe it is necessary to build and instill a culture of perpetual innovation and continuous improvement to avoid end state thinking.
Having an innovative culture means taking some risk, embracing change and allocating time and capital each year to new ideas. This should apply to outward facing ideas as well as inward ones. Incumbents should make use of their scale and consistently consider innovations in product, distribution and operations.
Strong corporate cultures in successful companies can become a tremendous liability during periods of accelerating change. Make sure to push hard to develop and maintain a highly diverse culture. Diversity will promote different points of view on risks and opportunity, making it more likely that a realistic assessment of clients and services will lead to faster innovation or more intelligent strategic partnerships.
Many established financial services companies have long been flexible and dynamically react to the changing products and client/customer needs. Capital markets evolution and regulatory changes have forced that culture. For example – mortgage backed securities were created out of thin air in the early 80s – they grew because they served a great purpose in enhancing the velocity of home loan capital. But senior management at the big Wall Street firms had to be taught what they are and then decide how much capital to allocate but they did and created new businesses for their firms.
Another example -The notion that Robos are going to knock over the incumbents is ludicrous. Vanguard, Schwab and Fidelity easily reacted because they had most of it already in place – it was largely repositioning.
So the “incumbents” are smart, dynamic and have near infinite capital.
Look at them as partners in many cases, and the ultimate exit — if they haven’t copied your products already. There are exceptions of course.
I think many of the incumbents do not have the mindset and ability to make the radical shifts needed in the next few years. This does not mean “business ends” but will have a profound effect on the ability to attract top talent and new clients. Many will need to acquire firms that don’t have the legacy issues, which includes pricing models, to slowly migrate to more innovative and adaptable technologies.
These are new times for incumbents, that have not been like the past. Experiment with all the emerging tech.
Change happens slower than you think in the short run and faster than you think in the long run. Therefore, keep a steady pace of innovation going. That way you cannibalize your own cash cow with the “next flavor” rather than letting others do it to you.
First, the days of any one company trying to do everything by itself are over.
An old way of thinking was that we had to control every aspect of every transaction and that no other company could do things better than we could. As technologies and businesses evolved, best performing companies have abandoned that perspective. Instead, they now actively seek out business partners whose capabilities can complement, or in certain cases, replace their own.
Building and sustaining “partnership capability” within an operating model takes a very specific set of core competencies. It’s a new skill set. To innovate as quickly as is needed, import that expertise into your organization. Build a sustainable, internal competency around external partnerships.
Second, lead from the top—you can’t delegate innovation. It takes time, but be acutely aware of disruptors in your market and in adjacent markets. Go to Silicon Valley, go to Kendall Square. It’s happening with or without you. Immerse yourself. Prepare, anticipate, adapt.