Gardening, Uber & Culture: Takeaways from this year's WatersTechnology Innovation Summit

John details his key takeaways from the first WatersTechnology Innovation Summit.


John runs through a few of his key takeaways from the inaugural WatersTechnology Innovation Summit, such as why banks should be planting gardens and moving on from Uber.

You may have noticed recently that WatersTechnology ran a new event this week in London, our first Innovation Summit. We have already begun rolling out coverage of the event and there will be more to come, so keep an eye out for that. For now, I’d like to share some of my key takeaways from the day.  

Plant a Garden

If I have learnt anything from playing too much Stardew Valley, it’s that the key to a thriving farm is to plan accordingly: sowing with short-term incomes in mind only means you’re going to be caught cold when winter rolls around. The same principle applies with technology innovation.

During her keynote speech, Deutsche Bank’s Elly Hardwick compared the bank’s approach of building a balanced innovation portfolio to that of “planting a garden” in order to be “both sticky and effective.” A combination of short-term (six to 12 months), medium-term (one to three years) and forward-looking projects, or as Hardwick called them “sequoias” that grow over time despite only being “hypotheticals for now,” is a cohesive strategy that should entrench genuine innovation throughout the business going forward.

Uber not a Gold Standard

Putting aside Uber’s ongoing issues with licensing and problematic hiring policies, the company is still seen as some kind of gold standard for how to innovate. Several panelists and speakers throughout the day made mention of how Uber had transformed the taxi industry and how banks can learn from this.

To my mind, this is something we really should have moved on from by now. Uber is now nearly ten years old and since entering the market so dramatically it has not pushed the envelope in a positive fashion recently. It might be wiser to start looking for new examples of innovation and the capital markets could do worse than its retail counterpart, where new challenger banks are constantly working on ways to provide better service to customers through the use of new technologies.

Cultural Obsession

Further to the previous point, the focus on culture is still taking up the majority of conversation around innovation and I can’t help but think that it’s time we moved on. But I do appreciate that banks are unwieldy, sprawling entities and that introducing new ways of working simply isn’t going to be possible overnight. It’s also admirable that CTOs and heads of innovation want to move toward a technology-centric approach. However, focusing on cultural change is only going to go so far and perhaps it’s time to start talking about the tangible benefits that innovation labs are producing.

Speakers from JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Barclays were all able to demonstrate case studies where startups brought into their programs flourished and provided a clear use-case for the bank in question to move forward with. It’s these examples that help dispel the shroud of secrecy that pervades technology innovation and proves that progress is actually being made.

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