Our company introduced and demonstrated a new product at last week's BAI show that no one asked for. That's right, not a single customer asked us for a product that could conduct cross-sell interviews on smartphones.
We had a lot of press and our partner, mFoundry, was answering a bunch of questions about how their now open mobile platform would change the dynamics of the mobile banking space. As interesting as all this was, what I thought was really revealing was the response from other mobile banking platform providers: "We've had an extensible platform for years."
Right, except, here's the difference: mFoundry is leading with innovative capabilities while others are waiting for customers to ask them to integrate these capabilities into their platform. The problem is, customers don't ask for innovative capabilities.
In my 25 years of building technology start-ups, I've seen this phenomenon enough to know that the problem is not unique to the banking industry. But here's what I've learned universally: Companies that wait to be told what to do don't thrive because the possibility of surprising and delighting customers with innovation is exactly zero when you wait for them to tell you what to build. Moreover, it's not realistic to expect out-of-the-box thinking from customers who in many cases define the box.
So why do so few organizations innovate? Because it's messy, risky and you don't sleep well at night when the innovation goes live. Jonas Salk, who did the seminal work on the polio vaccine remarked, "When you inoculate children with a [experimental] polio vaccine you don't sleep well for two or three weeks."
So, what's a banker to do with government regulators hovering and investors demanding better returns with zero slip-ups? First, forget the demand for, "no mistakes." It isn't possible to innovate without failures and surprises. Even Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by mistake when he found some mold that had blown in through an open window and onto his petri dish was actually dissolving the deadly Staphylococcus bacteria.
As for government regulation, employ the "beloved relative" test. Would I strongly recommend this product to my favorite aunt or niece? If the answer is no, think hard and long about why – there's probably a good reason why you wouldn't recommend showing an untargeted interstitial banner ad to your aunt every single time she logged onto her bank's website.
And lastly, give it a try! It just might work! And if it doesn't, no worries, you're one step closer to finding what will work. As Thomas Edison once said, "Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won't work."
Devon Kinkead is CEO of Micronotes, a digital marketing company that provides tools and technologies to financial institutions.