How Charles Schwab is breaking innovation out from labs

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Charles Schwab is building digital innovation labs across the country, but wants them all to be close to the company.

After Schwab announced the launch of its digital hubs in Austin and San Francisco in early May, it began experimenting with how often it wants to cross pollinate between the larger organization and the labs.

“For one of the first innovation labs, half of that team rolled over into an existing project,” Neesha Hathi, executive vice president and chief digital officer at Schwab, said in an interview with American Banker at In|Vest 2018. “You can read about something and learn about it academically, but it’s different when you do it.”

Hathi explained the talent management strategy was borne out of a desire at Schwab to implement new ideas quickly. So it decided to put innovation teams on a rotation.

“We’re still figuring out how to do the rotation,” Hathi said. “When teams are doing agile development, they really get their mojo. Once they get through a few efforts, they get better and better … but we want to take some of their learnings and spread it.”

Three of the digital hubs consist of what Schwab calls “Innovation Accelerators,” while three others are called “Journey Accelerators.”

It's innovation groups are smaller — usually between eight to 12 people working on a 12-week timeline to implement a new process or technology. Journey groups are larger with 50 to 100 people and are focused on changing a particular client process end-to-end.

The teams play a creative and patching role for Schwab. “They are looking at where clients have breakage in the experience and smoothing things out,” Hathi said.

The hubs are also heavy on tech: For every product manager there are three engineers. Schwab is trying to go outside of itself by hiring employees in user experience, architecture, product management and design from places like Google, IBM, Betterment and Expedia.

To keep pace, Schwab is still hiring employees for the hubs and is interested in building more hubs in Denver, Hathi said.

“We don’t want to slow down progress," she said, "but we also want to test out new ways of working and develop new best practices in the same organization.”

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