How do you bring a new idea to fruition in your bank? Do you execute it privately without telling anybody and wait for the look of delighted surprise on your boss's face when he finds out about it from a customer or competitor? Do you mention it in the elevator to your CIO, who then puts you in charge of making the new concept happen?Unless you work for an extremely nimble and progressive financial institution, the answer to these last two questions is no. You might mention the idea to someone or you might make a mental note to pursue it some day. But other pressing projects, tight budgets, compliance concerns, corporate bureaucracy and politics all tend to get in the way of seeing a good new idea to fruition.
"Some people have an idea of how to do things better, but don't have an outlet to make their ideas known, either because the idea is not in their domain or the hierarchy in their company doesn't welcome it or for many, many reasons," notes Kosta Peric, head of innovation at SWIFT, who spoke to Bank Systems & Technology in an interview Friday. Such people are among the SWIFT members who come to the group's "Innotribe Labs," structured workshops held at its annual SIBOS event (in Hong Kong last year, Amsterdam this year) and operations forums. The participants spend up to eight hours debating ideas among themselves, preparing presentations for their ideas, and defending those ideas before a "jury" of C-level executives. "In banking, people are shy about sharing their ideas over public discussion boards and forums," Peric says. "But they're not shy to participate in these labs." SWIFT vows to help the owners of the winning idea carry it out to its logical conclusion.
At last year's SIBOS conference, Peric's group ran a lab around three subjects: cloud computing, crowdsourcing and mashups. The idea that won was called eMe, which means "electronic me." "The idea was about electronic digital identity and digital safebox as a new banking product," Peric says. In a retail example, a consumer may have an account on iTunes, Amazon, Google, and other sites where he purchases goods and enters personal data such as your credit card numbers. "It's not a very efficient process because you keep this information spread around," Peric notes. "At worst, it's not safe because a site may get attacked and your information may leak. The idea of a digital safebox as a service banks could sell to consumers, is to have a single safe place to store this information so that if you change the information you change it in only one place. The vendors would come and fetch the information from the safebox and hopefully this information is safely stored."
Although SWIFT does not normally get involved with retail transactions, the group facilitated post-SIBOS discussion between the idea owners and some banks in Europe to see if there was traction for the idea and to put flesh around it. "It turned out that the most interest for this concept was felt in the governments, because of their e-government efforts and simplification of process and digitization of information," Peric says. The Belgium government got interested in using eMe to store personal information.
The banks SWIFT approached were not interested in eMe as a retail application but could see a use for the concept in corporate accounts. So SWIFT now calls the idea eBiz and envisions it as a way to offer electronic bank account management whereby unstructured documents can be safely stored.
One thing Peric is looking into is a possible way of "mutualizing" innovation in the SWIFT community. "Is there a way to share a research and development between banks so that we make space and budgets for acting upon ideas that are coming out of cycle or are more farfetched, that may not have an impact right away," he says.