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Bank Hackathon Strategy: Balloons, Cake and a Press Release (“BCPr”)

Balloons, Cake and a Press release (known as “BCPr”). That’s usually what the bank CEO often wants when it comes to innovation.

It’s cost effective. It’s easy to deliver. It has a predictable ROI and it’s something to show off at the next board meeting. Plus you can stick the photos in the annual report too.

What’s not to like?

This is the informal, unwritten innovation policy of a lot of bank CEOs. They might not express it in such direct terms, but this is how they approach things. I know many bank CEO & COOs who expressly follow the BCPr approach to innovation.

I don’t think it’s wrong, either.

That may be surprising – coming from an “innovation guy” like myself.

However, let me explain.

Innovation needs executive commitment. But it also needs mid-level commitment. It needs the right internal processes. It needs a variety of skills and capabilities (often not prevalent throughout banks). It needs a slightly different approach to risk management, and it needs someone to take responsibility – fully.

If you’re the bank CEO/COO, you probably already fully and totally understand the above requirements. You know the limitations of your team.

The last thing you should be doing is giving them millions to blow on “innovation”. Many executives I speak to have the scars of doing this – once. I have rescued quite a few CEO-sponsored bank innovation projects that the internal teams just couldn’t manage. The issue wasn’t the C-Level being prepared to commit funds. No. It was the ability of their teams to actually execute. That wasn’t through lack of desire or professionalism of those teams, either. Doing “innovation” needs a lot of focus, skills, capabilities, different culture and so on.

This is just one reason why you will continue to see lots of “innovation days” and “digital hackathons” run by banks that don’t actually deliver anything material. They are not meant to.

It is easy to be dismissive – I know I have been in the past.

Why bother? Well, there is a cynical aspect, yes. Sometimes there is a lot of perception management going on. But there is also some value from BCPr Innovation – you can begin to shape and gently challenge internal culture. You can start to identify individuals who might be useful to supervise some actual innovation efforts in future. You can also build the case for departments, processes, and people to change their views on “doing things differently”. And you can drive support for the waterfall/agile (“wagile”) deliveries you actually need implemented this year.

So the next time you see some “BCP Innovation” going on, give a cheer: It’s better than nothing!

Completely new breeding edge innovation is best done externally from the bank mothership. But that presents its own problems and challenges – and is a topic for another time!

Ewan is Founder and Editor of FinTech Profile and Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of mobile and FinTech industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.


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