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Focus: Leading Through Innovation


FNB’s innovation programme has resulted in more than 10 000 implemented innovations to date and remains central to the bank’s growth strategy and its ability to deliver on its brand promise of helping customers. We spoke to chief Imagineer Jolandé Duvenage to learn more about how innovation is changing the game in the financial services sector.

Words Monique Verduyn Illustration Liézel Els

Innovation is a business imperative for banks all over the world. Shifting economic patterns have forced organisations to create ecosystems that will adapt to ever-changing markets. Many organisations believe that ‘innovation’ together with the rise of new technologies can help in developing dynamic environments that create sustainable solutions for customers and businesses alike.

Simply defined, innovation is a new idea that can contribute to creating better solutions that meet new business or customer needs. Innovation not only enables change but also encourages thinking which disrupts the current status-quo.

Methods of developing new ways of banking are fresh and diverse but share a common goal: to bring new ideas to fruition quickly. Speed to market is critical in meeting the rapidly evolving needs of customers, maintaining competitive differentiation, and managing and overcoming the challenges of banking in a tough economy.

Creating and building on ideas that inspire and disrupt has been a winning formula for the FNB Innovators 2.0 programme. ‘Our commitment to innovation best practice has helped benchmark FNB within the industry as well as globally,’ says Jolandé Duvenage. ‘Encouraging our employees to re-invent banking processes and come up with deep-rooted innovations has helped in extending more value to our retail and business clients. This forward-thinking approach helps to keep us ahead of our competitors.’

Innovation is core to the bank’s strategy, she adds, and is key to enabling the brand promise ‘How can we help you?’

‘Innovation for innovation’s sake can become an esoteric exercise,’ Duvenage says. ‘The beauty of our approach is that all FNBers are engaged because we are constantly searching for ways to improve the customer experience. How we help you today may not be the best way to help you in the future, which is why ongoing innovation is critical. This approach can only work if you have everyone on board. Innovation does not belong to a select few individuals, or in an innovation hub – it needs to involve everyone in the organisation.’

What’s in it for employees?

The celebration of innovation is something the bank takes seriously. In November last year, more than

R9,5 million was awarded to FNB’s most innovative employees for radically disrupting and introducing game-changing innovations in the financial industry. This adds to the overall total of R54,5 million given away since the launch of the highly successful employee programme in 2004, which encourages all employees to actively participate and enable the innovation process in the bank.

Duvenage explains that the programme has matured since it was first rolled out. ‘It has been reinvented over the past two years,’ she says. ‘We have built it on four key pillars: Inspire, Ideate, Implement, and only then Celebrate. In addition to prize money, employees are also given the opportunity to improve their knowledge and skills in an atmosphere of ongoing learning. Internal and external subject matter experts are brought in to share their expertise, and all this content is available to view online for those who cannot attend the sessions.’

It’s this approach that has resulted in an ongoing process of ideation. ‘People are excited about the concept of innovation and how they might contribute. Everyone in the organisation understands that individuals have different strengths and talents which has, in turn, led teams to collaborate much more, across different business units. There’s an appreciation of the fact that different people bring different insights.’

Duvenage stresses that the task of being innovative requires people who understand the business, embrace the organization’s culture and look for ways of doing things differently. Importantly, driving innovation in a shifting environment needs commitment not only from employees but all levels of the business.

Leadership support for all types of initiatives is a force for driving innovation at FNB, and a certain level of risk-taking is allowed for.

‘Our leadership team, right up to CEO Jacques Celliers, actively supports innovation in even its simplest forms, as these can make a difference. They make time to be part of the judging panels and actively demonstrate their support.’

Innovations that have changed the game

The bank’s mobile offering, FNB Connect, has provided customers with an online self-service platform, integration of VOIP calling from the app, as well as integration with its reward programme, while also adding further competition in the cellular industry, which is helping to keep other operators on their toes, especially when it comes to pricing. It has proved to be a successful innovation, with 2017 figures showing that it has 520 000 active mobile subscribers, up from 400 000 in 2016.

‘We’ve integrated banking and mobile services, while also being the first bank in Africa to provide our customers with branded cell phones,’ says Duvenage. ‘That’s been an essential part of our drive to move customers into the digital space. The key learning here is that innovation will not win if it does not deliver the goods. Everything we do is focused on bringing new benefits to the business – whether that means growing the bottom line, increasing efficiencies, or better preparing the organisation for the future.’

Another recent innovation for the banking group is FNB Life, which aims to become the lowest cost insurance company in the market through its ability to interact with customers at a lower cost than competitors and retain them through integration into the FNB ecosystem. The success of this business will be driven by its ability to increase efficiencies in an often-cumbersome sector by leveraging the banking infrastructure and channels.

‘Ideas grow best when shared in the most collaborative environment which enables all aspects of innovation. Incorporating innovation in all our digital platforms has increasingly empowered our customers to manage their banking at any given time or place. This seamless integration and digitisation remain a core strategy of the FNB digital journey,’ says Duvenage.

The success of the innovation programme has resulted in a number of awards. Including being named as one of South Africa’s strongest brands in the 2017 Brand Finance annual report (most valuable South African brands), being declared the Most Innovative African Bank at African FinTech Awards, and most recently Master Innovator (organisations with a turnover above R35M) in the 2017 Accenture Innovation Awards.

Duvenage says that extending its digital ecosystem beyond banking has created value for the bank’s customers who have higher expectations for mobility and convenience as a result of the ubiquity of technology and consumer expectations of ‘everything in real-time’. ‘To remain competitive, we are required to build products and systems that are truly innovative and that help to create a better world for our customers, now and into the future. It’s an approach that any organisation can use gain the ability to differentiate itself and create a platform that will encourage positive change.’

Looking ahead, it’s clear that the banking world is changing at a greater speed than ever before. ‘Business as usual’ is no longer good enough, particularly as competition from non-traditional fintech entrants increases. The pressure is on for banks to implement innovation that will transform their approach to the value chain.