Surface the Insights Inside the Company

Earlier in the year I went to interview the CEO of FNB, the South African Bank voted in 2012 ‘The World’s Most Innovative Bank’.

Over the last nine years, since the management set their collective will to using innovation to deliver against the current customer-facing line of ‘How can we help you?’, FNB have launched a steady stream of small innovations (what they call ‘minivations’ – small scale innovations that can be in-market within three months) and larger, more revolutionary customer breakthroughs. For instance, a recent recognition that many South Africans would like to be able to afford an iPad, but couldn’t quite afford it, led to FNB retailing iPads (embedded with their own banking app) at a competitive price on a two year interest-free repayment scheme. The bank is now the largest retailer of iPads in Africa, selling one every 30 seconds.

The engine of all this innovation, this success, is partly what Michael Jordaan, their CEO, calls ‘a cultural revolution’ – breaking down all the old hierarchies and rigidities of a traditional bank – and partly the creation of an internal innovation process that is more or less diametrically opposed to that of Apple, for instance. FNB offers around $550,000 a year in internal prizes to employees to come up with innovative ideas that enhance the customer experience – any employee, from any area; if they come up with a radical idea, they can win up to $330,000 just for that one idea. Each division has an Innovation Champion, and Jordaan’s brief to them is to come up with ‘what excites you’; he is not restrictive about how many they can launch – he encourages the company to launch as many as the system can take. Every year, he judges the finalists himself.

They don’t, interestingly, extend the prize to consumers, because consumers don’t understand the cost structures or direction for the business. I find my insights and ideas inside the company, Jordaan says; all I have to do is simply empower the culture, and trust the system.