The goals of Capital One's new Digital Innovation lab are best demonstrated by a recent posting for a job called "entrepreneur in residence": "the role requires a unique combination of general management skills, a proven track record of partner relationship management and business development success," who will also interface with senior officers in Capital One's business units with the explicit "objective of accelerating the firm's enterprise-wide digital agenda through research and learning, rapid prototyping and applied pilot market tests."
Mark Jamison, who joined Capital One in January as a managing vice president to help start up and lead the innovation lab, has spent the past year building a staff of about ten people, many of whom have a combination of tech and startup expertise.
Jamison has also worked on startups for most of the past 15 years, and has also worked for Charles Schwab, helping lead the development of account aggregation for the discount broker.
Capital One is the latest financial institution to take a laboratory approach to tech development, a strategy used by other institutions to check out new technology and see if it makes sense for their needs.
Jamison recently spoke with BTN about the lab, how it's being put together, and some of the newest technology it's looking at as it gets ready to release its first projects in the coming weeks.
BTN: What has the innovation lab worked on thus far?
Jamison: We started out in January and spent the first half of the year putting together our plan and hiring entrepreneurs. We hired someone from Google, for example. And I have startup experience. We're building the lab in Arlington, Va. as a standalone facility, and we have about ten people right now.
BTN: Why is it important that your staff have startup experience?
Jamison: It's our fundamental belief that speed and agility matter. What I've seen is that when you have experience going to market with something new with real customers, you find that you are never one hundred percent right. Having entrepreneurs on your team means having people who have lived through that experience, so you have insight into how to find out what things you have gotten right and upgrade from there.
BTN: Is that a quality that's lacking at large firms?
Jamison: Big companies sometimes try to have a silver bullet. But for meeting needs in the digital space, you need to be fast, and get out there and learn. You need to think big, start small, learn quickly and then scale.
BTN: What kinds of opportunities do you see in the financial space?
Jamison: A lot of our competitors are retrenching and are not investing for growth, so we have an opportunity there. And there is a [new channel] ecosystem that is on fire. There are so many opportunities here, ranging form measuring consumer insights -- how they interact with others and on the web; digital payments, digital financial services. It's really the 'wild west' right now in the digital space.
BTN: What makes digital services and mobile banking so interesting?
Jamison: There's a very broad agenda. I think of it as 'three dimensional web.' If you have the web anywhere you are, you can make it a very social tool. We're very socially aware as people, we're aware of what our environment is, and mobile manifests itself as a whole new way delivering products and services.
BTN: How will the lab function from a project management perspective?
Jamison: We are structured to be agile. We construct teams of three people, each including a business analyst, an engineer and a designer. If you put these three people together to work on a project, the process is integrated. The concept can become tangible and real in about two to three weeks. It's a separate process from what big companies have traditionally done in terms of waterfall processes in IT.