The Best Global Banking Innovations

Innovation has become the foundation for digital transformation at financial institutions globally. Now more than ever, banks and credit unions are increasing the pace of innovation and generating measurable results. Here is a summary of the best-of-the-best recognized by Efma and Accenture's innovation awards program.
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For the past seven years, Efma (an association of 3,300 financial institutions in 130 countries) in association with Accenture has reviewed hundreds of applications from organizations globally to select the best retail banking innovations in the world. Each year, the innovations have grown more ambitious, and the winners keep setting themselves further apart from the rest of the industry with their vision, implementation and, most significantly, measurable results.

In 2019, the competition attracted more than 600 innovations from 235 institutions in 70 countries. These innovations were submitted through the Customer Insight and Growth Banking Innovation portal that showcases hundreds of innovations that have been submitted through the years.

Since the first year of the event, over 3,000 innovations from 734 institutions in 97 countries have been reviewed. While the specific innovations recognized have differed over the years, a surprisingly few organizations and geographic regions continue to excel. Since 2013, the five institutions that have won the most awards have been mBank (Poland), Intesa Sanpaolo (Italy), Deniz Bank (Turkey), Idea Bank (Poland) and CaixaBank (Spain).

The Banking Innovation Awards aim to identify and award the most innovative projects in the retail banking sector at a global level. A panel of judges creates a shortlist for the seven categories (excluding the Global Innovator award), with voting based on the following criteria:

  • Originality: The uniqueness of the idea in the marketplace and the potential for the nominee to be a “game changer.”
  • Impact: The innovation’s capacity to generate a superior, long-term competitive edge and significant return on investment.
  • Universality: The innovation’s adaptability across markets and countries.

The Global Innovator category was evaluated by banking executives and innovation specialists, determining which organization had the most impressive body of work.

Innovations in seven categories were recognized, as well as the Global Innovator of the Year. The categories in 2019 were:

  • Best Use of Analytics and Artificial Intelligence
  • Digital Marketing and Communication
  • New Product Innovation
  • Neobank and Specialized Player Innovations
  • “Phygital” Distribution and Experiences
  • Social, Sustainable and Responsible Banking
  • Workforce Experience
  • Global Innovator of the Year

Read More: Top Digital Banking Transformation Trends

“The future of banking is in the platform economy and these awards showcase banks and their journey to transforming their business models, with retail banks rising to the challenge of competition from non-traditional providers,” stated Piercarlo Gera, Global Managing Director for Financial Services Distribution & Marketing Services at Accenture. “The geographic range of this year’s winners indicates that innovation knows no boundaries, as competition intensifies across all markets.”

I was fortunate enough to be the co-master of ceremonies for the third year in a row this year, where bronze, silver and gold awards were presented. The award presentation was broadcast live globally. Below is a description of the gold level award winners from the competition.

Using Analytics and Advanced Intelligence – CaixaBank

In a context of permanent change and aware of the evolution of the mobile channel as a point of dialogue between company and customer, Neo was born – the artificial intelligence chatbot from CaixaBank.

In February 2018, Neo was launched, with work done in 2019 to improve this cognitive system through in-depth training and evaluating the points to be improved. Within the CaixaBank app, the chatbot is a personal Customer Service assistant (24/7) able to accompany customers throughout the contracting, operational and resolution processes. The chatbot can communicate in English, Spanish and Catalan. Furthermore, the technology developed allows the bank to adapt to the different language requirements without needing to develop any new technology.

The app is used for consultations as well as for managing operations (balance inquiries, expenses per month, etc.) and for expanding the portfolio of messages with the aim of improving the assistant’s sales capacity. The goal is to expand these types of messages based on the client’s browsing experience and the type of queries made.

Neo consists of a cognitive system of more than 60,000 inputs with the aim of covering all types of conversations. This allows CaixaBank to offer customers a tool based on natural language that encompasses all the company’s products and services.

Some quantitative results:

  • 3,500,000+ customers have been made aware of the service
  • 2,500,000+ customers have chatted with Neo
  • 23,000,000+ conversations have taken place
  • 20% reduction in calls to the contact center
  • 85% correct answers without further engagement required

Silver went to Akbank (Turkey) and bronze to Isbank (Turkey).

Read More: AI’s Real Impact on Banking: The Critical Importance of Human Skills

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Digital Marketing and Communications – Bradesco

Bradesco Bank, headquartered in Brazil, wanted to reinforce its role as a bank that includes and values everyone, regardless of color, race, creed or gender. The bank decided to show its commitment to diversity and inclusion during the most important time of the year – Christmas.

The highly emotional Firefly campaign addressed social inclusion and also the concept of overcoming daily challenges. The story is about a firefly that leaves the countryside and pursues its dream in the city, enchanted by the lights and sparkle. The firefly ended up being overshadowed by a cold, hard and unwelcoming world, similar to what minorities face regularly.

In addition to representing a mix of ethnicities, genders, social classes, and disabilities, the film illustrated that anyone can conquer their space. It also showed that together, without discrimination, interior light can make a difference in the world. In a surprise move (certainly by a traditional bank), Gloria Groove, a famous drag queen artist, recorded the Christina Aguilera soundtrack, “Beautiful.”

The film was shown during prime time on the biggest TV broadcaster in the country and on YouTube. The Firefly campaign was also integrated with other media, with the video becoming the most viewed commercial in YouTube Brazil history (Cannes Lions campaign overview).

Silver went to CaixaBank (Spain) and bronze to Frankfurter Sparkasse (Germany).

New Product Innovation – KEB Hana Bank

Global Loyalty Network (GLN) from KEB Hana Bank in South Korea is a global payment hub where each country’s financial institutions or payment service companies share merchants network, user bases, and loyalty programs. Financial institutions participate in the network to enable their users to make payments, remittance, and ATM withdrawal overseas with their e-wallets without installing a separate app.

The concept recognized that local payment companies have the appropriate knowledge of their local market and regulations to provide services with the most localized benefits. By sharing their infrastructure to create a more globalized platform, all members of the network would benefit.

To develop such a platform, KEB Hana Bank formed a business development organization with a UI/UX team that collaborated with IT and compliance departments. GLN has established a consortium with 25 companies from 9 countries since 2017, and it’s under discussion with 53 companies including 14 global financial institutions.

Silver went to KBC (Belgium) and bronze to BMO Bank of Montreal (Canada).

Neobank and Specialized Player – Bradesco

Illimity Bank from Italy is a new institution, specializing in three relevant and underserved markets in the Italian marketplace – SMEs, Corporate NPL and Direct Banking. The neobank relies on strong information technology providing new levels of quality, service and efficiency – without losing the human connection. Its innovative business model makes it possible to deliver a best-in-class value proposition to its customers, through open banking-powered products such as loans, insurance, foreign exchange and mortgages.

Read More: Open Banking Provides Potential For Revenue Goldmine

The bank’s competitive advantage is:

  • Zero legacy bank (no IT legacy systems, business model fitting this purpose)
  • Fully Digital (no physical channels)
  • Human Touch (skilled SMEs tutors and Smart Customer care to effectively serve direct banking customers)
  • Lean&Fast (flat agile organization with delivery and time-to-market of a real start-up)
  • Cost Effective

In 6 months, Illimity evolved from being a concept, to raising 600m € capital (being the most successful European SPAC — special purpose acquisition company — in 2018), to being a fully operational bank listed on the MTA, part of the Italian stock market.

Silver went to Santander (Spain) and bronze to Discovery (South Africa).

Phygital Distribution and Experiences – Krungsri Bank

Krungsri Bank from Thailand found that commercial banks did not do well in supporting a positive customer experience with the mortgage loan customer journey. Research by the bank found that customers felt staffs were not energetic and were often not service-minded. Secondly, customers felt that bank staffs did not inform them about terms and conditions, costs involved with the process, etc. Lastly, customers felt that bank staffs did not follow up well regarding customer applications and status of the loan process.

Bottom line, the bank realized that to win over mortgage borrowers, they needed to improve the mortgage customer experience through the bank sales staffs and business partners. As a result, the bank set out to improve the mortgage borrowing journey by connecting it with home buying journey. The bank connected a new smart sales tool with business partners across the home buying spectrum via “Krungsri Homeloan Connect,” using Open APIs to facilitate the process.

The program was called “Krungsri Digital Homeloan.” Before the program was initiated, Krungsri bank was ranked fourth in market share and sales volumes for mortgage business. By the end of 2018, market share grew 34%, moving the bank to second.

Silver went to Garanti BBVA (Turkey) and bronze to Maybank (Malaysia).

Social, Sustainable and Responsible Banking – BNP Paribas

France’s BNP Paribas has increasingly focused on sustainability across the organization, with new green financing initiatives as well as public engagement across all platforms. By embedding the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the core of its strategy, business model and culture, BNP Paribas has integrated sustainability in all its business lines and broadened its product offering. As part of this focus, ClimateSeed was launched by BNP Paribas to show how innovation and sustainability together can accelerate positive impacts.

ClimateSeed is a voluntary carbon offsetting platform to help connect organizations with tangible projects to cut carbon emissions. The ClimateSeed digital marketplace connects businesses looking to offset their carbon emissions and contribute to the UN SDGs with project developers offering voluntary carbon credits and looking for funding. ClimateSeed aims to increase the transparency, security and efficiency of the voluntary carbon market through a thorough verification process, that is built on a simple, secure, and user-friendly digital platform.

ClimateSeed is a social purpose business launched during the Global Social Business Summit in November 2018 with Nobel Peace prize laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. The entire project, business plan, and articles of association have been reviewed by Grameen Creative Lab, which has the mission of helping organizations implement social businesses as a way to meet society’s most pressing needs. As a Social Business, ClimateSeed must reinvest its profits to maximize its environmental and social impact and includes projects that create decarbonization educational programs as an example.

One of the strongest benefits of ClimateSeed is that it combines the financial and operational strength of a top-tier bank, the agility of a startup, and the legitimacy of a Social Business. The team is working to develop a network of international clients and partnerships and is willing to maximize the social and environmental benefits of its solution.

Silver went to PKO Bank Polski (Poland) and bronze to Commonwealth Bank (Australia).

Workforce Experience – Alior Bank

One of the key drivers of the “Digital Disruptor” strategy for Poland’s Alior Bank includes creating a positive organizational culture and high employee engagement. One of the goals was to have a 60% employee engagement rate by 2020. The bank wanted to create a truly digital and flexible working space that allows employees to communicate, collaborate and complete tasks effectively. To make this happen, the bank provided employees with tools that will let them to collaborate and communicate effectively both inside and outside of the office environment.

To achieve this, Alior cooperated with Innergo Systems to fully equip employees with iPhones. Alior Bank delivered these employees safe smartphones with a preinstalled set of applications, which were ready to use in just three minutes, without any technical expertise. More specifically, MDM (mobile device management) software allowed the bank to manage employees centrally.

The bank also used the COPE concept (company-issued personal-enabled) – which separates employee’s company profile from their private one – allowing employees to use these smartphones for all purposes in a safe and transparent way. Access to apps such as cloud collaboration, video chats and messenger utilities supported an agile way of working. New devices were also deployed with an emphasis on ensuring corporate security and increasing employee productivity.

The bank also launched a multi-functional portal for employees called Kompas, which is available in a web and mobile app version. Kompas functions as an internal social platform for the bank’s employees, which allows them to discuss, communicate, receive fresh news, create groups, define goals and verify questions with managers. Designed according to the latest UX trends, the portal has centralized many functions that were once dispersed.

Silver went to FNB (South Africa) and bronze to CSOB (Czech Republic).

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Global Innovator of the Year: DBS Bank


DBS Bank from Singapore is the first bank to concurrently hold the “World’s Best Bank” title from Euromoney, Global Finance and The Banker, three of the financial industry’s most prestigious publications. The common thread in these awards is that they were conferred to the bank for leadership in digitalization and innovation.

The Euromoney citation said: “No other institution has worked so hard to embrace and lead digital disruption, and while some banks demonstrate their technological prowess with impressive apps, DBS does so by embedding digital innovation into everything it does – with a tangible positive impact on the bottom line.”

The bank’s innovation agenda is driven by:

  • Being digital to the core, like a tech company. Moving from legacy technology (e.g. data centers) to cloud-native technology (85% of technology in-sourced; over 80% of open systems cloud-ready; over 60 cloud- native applications).
  • Embedding ourselves in the customer journey. Seamlessly embedding the bank’s services into customers’ everyday lives, through industry partnerships and APIs.
  • Creating a 27,000-person start-up culture. Encouraging experimentation and an entrepreneurial culture.

A key priority at DBS is driving a tech and data-driven start-up culture throughout the entire 27,000 strong organization. This priority has board-level and senior management buy-in, and is embraced organization-wide. Some initiatives undertaken include:

  • Organizing over 300 innovation-centric events, such as hackathons, involving over 17,000 staff so staff could learn by doing.
  • Encouraging a culture of experimentation and removing the stigma of failing — by giving awards for failing.
  • Establishing a Data Heroes program to equip employees with big data and data analytics skills. Over 16,000 staff have been trained over the past 18 months, and over 200 data analytics projects were completed in 2018.

Finally, the bank has built an end-to-end cross-border blockchain trading platform and POS Smart Buddy – the world’s first in-school wearable tech savings and payments program. DBS Bank’s institution-wide embrace of digitalization has led to embedding innovation throughout the bank.

Silver went to Santander (Spain) and bronze to CaixaBank (Spain).

“These innovations are proof of banking leaders transforming the retail financial services landscape and reshaping the future of the industry,” said Vincent Bastid, Efma’s CEO. “Every year it is exciting to see innovative solutions developed around the world. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners for their achievements.”

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