A theme emerged among the people and companies we chose for our top 10 innovators list this year: the development of technology that helps financially troubled consumers.
Huntington's Jeff Dennes has created alerts that enable consumers to avoid overdraft fees. Refreshing, isn't this, after the many years in which overdraft fees have subsidized free checking accounts. Citi and Wells Fargo are making more help - convenient, anonymous help - available to those struggling with underwater mortgages and credit card debt.
Frank Eliason has even changed the title of those who assist such borrowers from "loss mitigation specialist" to "homeowner support associate." Kabbage is extending credit to small business owners who can't get it elsewhere. Movenbank hopes to help customers understand and improve their financial health with account views and a "credibility score" that will be shared with them.
Some of these innovations are recession bred - unemployed or underemployed and debt laden Americans are a large and steady market that can't be ignored. They could also be effects of some of the unrest of Occupy Wall Street and Bank Transfer Day. And as banks strive for profitability amid thin margins, they are rediscovering the customer; a happy customer will surely be more willing to pay new fees that will make up for lost interest income.
Another trend is at work among this group, especially at Citi and BBVA - an attitude among senior management that change and innovation are needed and beneficial. Citi recently formed a 25-person team based in Palo Alto and Shanghai dedicated to fostering innovation throughout the organization. The group has already held an enterprise-wide Idea Challenge and built internal crowdsourcing tools for employees.
At BBVA, not only did c-level executives agree to deploy cloud apps across the enterprise, three days after a training session, those executives had already used the new software to create presentations and share documents for a strategy session. And at BNY Mellon, execs have agreed that the bank should be among the first to try offering context-aware computing to corporate customers, a daring move for a traditionally stodgy business line.
But more than management, employees are the ones who have to execute innovation, and they require two things: communication and patience.
"We're trying to build new muscle in the organization," says Susan Andrews, managing director and head of innovation at Citi Ventures. "My customer is the employee base. I'm trying to simplify things and teach them new skills so that we can accelerate time to market and bring fresh thinking in. Customers don't care that we're cards vs. retail bank vs. GTS. They care that we're Citi. How do we bring the best of Citi to our customers and create insanely great customer experiences?"
Transparency and doing what you say you're going to do are key, she says. "People generally want to do good work, they want to contribute. I want to give them the possibility to do that."