Make way for the And-I’s.
And-I’s are my name for a new phenomenon I’ve noticed in financial services job titles. “And-I” stands for the words “and innovation” tacked on to the end of existing job titles. Your “Head of Digital Banking” is now “Head of Digital Banking and Innovation“.
Boom. You’re now in the innovation game. No one can accuse you of anything otherwise. It’s right there on the business card. The only thing we love more than acronyms in this business is that kind of git er done, check-the-box process efficiency.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every bank needs a full-time Chief Innovation Officer (and no one needs the trousered acronym CHINO that comes with it, but I guess we have to differentiate from our Chief Information Officers and Chief Investment Officers somehow). It’s great to recognize the need to innovate and to give someone the responsibility for making it happen. It’s just that simply taking it on without a means of support usually does not have much of an impact.
The 3 most common types of And-I’s:
Head of Digital Banking and Innovation
The head of digital banking (who was called the head of online banking just a few years ago) has already been put in charge of digitizing an analog business model, so adding innovation to their job title seems natural.
- PRO: The service delivery model of financial services has been on the front lines of the disruption wars, so an effective head of digital banking probably has a pretty good handle on understanding how customers’ needs and preferences are changing.
- CON: Often times, the head of digital banking’s domain is limited to consumer retail banking, and usually just the front end of customer interactions, at that. Opportunities may be missed to create better outcomes in other business lines, drive efficiencies from back-office processes, or build a sustainable culture of innovation.
Head of Technology and Innovation
The only thing worse than the incorrect and incomplete conflation that ‘innovation = technology’ is its even more misguided cousin, ‘technology = innovation’, even though the two do often co-exist as a matter of necessity.
- PRO: A senior technologist who understands how to make things work inside the complex machinery of a bank is definitely a great person to have thought about implementing better ways of doing things.
- CON: Senior technology leaders are under a lot of (understandable) pressure to keep all of the systems running smoothly and reliably, and to continually seek out and destroy any potential security threats. It’s hard to ask that person to spend a lot of time building and testing new concepts with regularity.
Executive Vice President of X and Innovation
If a board and/or CEO have decided that innovation is indeed an act of leadership, they may want to vest a member of the senior leadership team with newly minted innovation powers.
- PRO: Any innovation efforts without a serious commitment from senior leadership is doomed to fail. Having someone with the ear of the CEO and board and a direct say in the budgeting process is a good thing.
- CON: Even if the appointed senior officer isn’t the type who needs their granddaughter to help them figure out all of those apps on their new iPhone, all of that experience of the grizzled veterans can actually work against them in the innovation process. The pursuit of perfecting best practices can get in the way of discovering the next practices.
The Case for And-I’s
- Hiring people with a full-time focus on innovation is an expense that most banks cannot afford. The cost of an full-time, senior level Chief Innovation Officer, plus a team of supporting researchers, designers, and technologists can easily be a million dollar a year investment (or more). Plus hoodies. You can’t forget hoodies.
- Infusing an imperative to innovate into everyone’s psyche and their job description is a hallmark of the most innovative companies in the world. It shouldn’t be reserved for an anointed few.
- Far-flung R&D labs and skunkworks activities disconnected from the core business and its practitioners can be a rabbit hole of unproductive navel-gazing.
How to Make it Work
- Use all of these people as a team, plus a few others (just none of these people), to help you build out your innovation team. But put someone in charge. Even if it’s part-time, someone has to be the leader of your innovation efforts.
- Establish innovation goals. What are the business goals you are trying to achieve? (See: 5 New Years Resolutions for Bank Innovators.
- Create separate innovation governance and funding structure. Innovation projects can’t be managed like typical BAU (business as usual) projects.
- Have the appropriate time horizons. Your typical ROI models, J-curves and break-even analysis don’t always work well when you’re experimenting with something new. (See: 5 Ways to Kill Your Innovation Initiative).
- Don’t go it alone. Get some help setting up and running your innovation program, and don’t build everything in-house. Nimble fintech companies can build and release a whole new app in the time it can take for you to assemble the committee members required to sign off its release.
Support your local And-I’s. They need all the help they can get.