Sharpen Your Axe: Cracking the Code on Innovation

“Innovation is often about provocation,” says Hart Hillman, moderator of the “Sharpen Your AxeTM” series and founder of the Bigwin Group Inc., an executive search and talent management group in Toronto with 21 affiliate offices globally. On September 11, 2015, the Bigwin Group hosted a panel discussion about ‘Innovation and Mobility in FinTech’ at the MaRS Discovery District with top executives from Google Canada, PayPal, Tangerine Bank, TD Bank and the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance

Mobile is getting to a stage of ‘ubiquity,’ notes Alexander Peh, Head of Market Development and Mobile at PayPal Canada. “The barriers to entry from consumers, hardware manufacturers, software manufacturers etc., have dropped down dramatically. Everyone has got them [technological devices, such as cell phones, laptops etc.] and customer expectations are getting higher and higher.”

Sabrina Geremia, Managing Director of Integrated Solutions (Financial Services and Automotive) at Google Canada explains that today there are approximately 5 billion connected devices across the various technological landscapes, and she predicts that by 2020 there will be roughly 25-50 billion connected devices worldwide. “Your cell phone has become the interface for the ‘internet of me’, it has the ability to create searches in seconds, it can determine when you are coming home and turn up the heat for you before you arrive, it can even detect when your husband or wife is in the grocery store so you can remind them to pick up milk”.

Technology startups and financial powerhouses continue to struggle with the age-old debate about what drives innovation and change. The late Steve Jobs suggested that focus groups are problematic because “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. “Ms. Geremia echoes this sentiment, explaining that Google looks to innovate and solve for something that we don’t even know is possible, rather than develop something that is only 10% better than its predecessor. On the other hand, Bob Collymore, CEO of Safari, has argued that “innovation is driven by need, not technology”.

Geremia described a project at Google X in which contact lenses are being designed to monitor the blood sugar levels of those suffering with diabetes. This seamless technology will report data directly to cell phones, which can be set to share the information with healthcare providers. This innovative technology far surpasses existing customer expectations in fact, when asked what advancements they hope to see in the testing process, those questioned reported that they would prefer to test their glucose levels just once a day rather than five times. Case in point; none of those questioned were aware that technology exists that would allow them to avoid the painful process of drawing blood entirely.

Bank noted that, “it’s not good enough to deliver banking services and products in customer-friendly ways, we now have to put the customer in the center and create this engagement where customer centricity is key. We need to join the customer on their journey and not ask them to join us on ours.” For example, TD Bank has developed recognition software that could allow individuals the option to share and customize their home buying experience from their first step onto a building lot to the signing of the final mortgage documents. This project has created value distinction and enhanced the depth of TD Bank’s relationships with their customers.

Organizations such as Google, PayPal, Tangerine and TD Bank recognize that they need to empower their employees in order to attain a higher level of innovation. “The CEO has to walk the walk,” adds John Reid, CEO of CATA. He explains that the top decision makers are perhaps the most important initiators (or inhibitors) of innovation in an organization. Alexander Peh agrees, saying that “amazing technology is still being controlled, guided and defined by humans… innovation is an incredible way to get internal teams to work together. When you can bring together cross-functional teams around something like innovation as a cause, it really brings those creative juices out.” For instance, Nike Inc. made use of cross-functional teams when they launched Nike+ a running shoe which can be connected to a mobile device to act as a digital coach and motivator. The product came to market as a result of a collaborative effort from marketing experts, shoe designers and software engineers.

Rizwan adds that an employee’s day-to-day professional activities may consist of mundane tasks, yet in their personal lives they use ‘super-devices’ with incredible amounts of data and processing power to do creative and amazing things. He explains how TD Bank looks to harness this creativity through ‘Innovation Challenges’ which allot time for employees to apply their creativity and innovation to the financial sectors. In its quest to innovate consumer-friendly products, TD Bank has even created ‘TD Labs’ which brings students with no background in the financial sector into the challenge and adds yet another dimension of creativity.

While technological advancement have increased ease and accessibility, innovation and mobility are not without potential risks, dangers or concerns. Arguably, there are over 37 million Ashley Madison users that question the degree of security and privacy provided by these innovations.

Tangerine Bank has been proactive in its efforts to address concerns like these, travelling the globe in collaboration with other banks to find creative solutions to fight cybercrime. While cybercrime used to be costly and difficult to execute, it can now be perpetrated with a $100 device from a local shopping centre. Ian Cunningham, COO of Tangerine described his most recent trip to Israel where he visited ‘Cyberspark,’ a global hub that looks to mitigate cyber attacks. The centre revealed that one of the largest sources of cybercrime comes from criminal networks that intercept data by replicating authentic reception towers. Fintech companies need to continue to work together to explore and innovate, ensuring that they are leading the charge and staying ahead of those that want to exploit the same technologies.

An innovative idea is only valuable to the extent that it can be turned into something that can be deployed. Through continued exploration of innovation and mobility in FinTech, financial companies can evolve to stay ahead of these attacks. When Thomas Edison was asked how he felt about failing, he reportedly replied, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”