Banks circle start-ups as path to innovate

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Banks circle start-ups as path to innovate

But does collaboration pay?

Australia's banks are coming around to the idea of engaging start-ups to innovate on existing payment processes, according to a finance sector panel discussion.

Speaking at the CeBIT Future of Payments conference in Sydney last week, HSBC's global head of e-commerce strategy and innovation Andrew Davis said the appetite of institutions to work with start-ups was changing "from a small 'y' yes to a capital 'Y' yes".

Although banks had traditionally held an attitude of being able to "come up with all the answers", build and deliver platforms to market themselves, many were becoming more open to collaboration.

"I think banks realise there's lots they can learn from start-ups, ... peers, even consumers," Davis said. "There's lots of different ways they can engage them."

Davis cited financial messaging standards maker SWIFT's Innotribe program, which includes an annual start-up challenge, as one way the financial sector is looking to encourage collaboration with potentially disruptive payments players.

He said Accenture had also been developing a "FinTech" program in London and New York that brings financial technology startups together with banks "more from the mentoring perspective."

"We're now working with Accenture to look to bring that [concept] to Asia," Davis said.

Davis also cited the Level39 accelerator space at Canary Wharf in London as a program that could have potential in Australia.

"There's now some talk around whether a model like that could be applied in Barangaroo [adjacent to Sydney's CBD] as that precinct gets developed over the next two years."

Most panellists agreed that payments innovation wasn't the sole domain of start-ups; rather, financial institutions themselves could also innovate, despite their size and against a backdrop of traditional modes of thinking.

"It's really hard when you're in that environment ... [but] if you challenge your own thinking and do things that don't seem natural, you can get amazing results," Kinetik Innovation CEO Ben Pfisterer said.

"It's very hard to think that you and the people around you don't know best. It [comes down to] those people that can be visionary enough to say, 'we think we know best but let's challenge it, let's get people in that are trying to do different things'.

"The relationship doesn't have to be locked in stone. You don't have to launch a product [together]. You can just sample things."

Cuscal's senior manager of strategy and planning, Sarah Maloof, said larger institutions are also starting to think like start-ups more generally.

"I think a lot of corporations are adopting lean methodologies and behaving a little bit more like a start-up in general," she said.

She believed banks were well-positioned to disrupt their businesses but they had to be willing to do it.

"There's no point just saying it. It takes probably a collection of visionary people within an organisation to achieve that," Maloof said.

"From a financial institution point of view, if you look at other industries, Qantas hasve disrupted themselves with the likes of Jetstar and are starting to reap the benefits of doing that.

"It's about understanding where those disruptions might come from and how to really apply a true competitive advantage to make the best of it."

Pfisterer saw data analytics as one area where start-ups could help banks innovate.

"It's easy to look at the data the banks and payment networks see and it is the richest form of data there is," he said.

"Couple it with 'basket' data [and] it's amazing, but I still think there's a massive amount of work to be done and possible disruption [available from] actually doing more with the data. That's an area I see where startups can really help."

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