This week on the Tearsheet Podcast, you’ll hear from U.S. Bank’s chief innovation officer, Dominic Venturo. Dominic describes what’s prompting banks to innovate and how U.S. Bank approaches innovation and judges its own success, including his team’s KPIs. You’ll also hear his take on whether the senior innovation role is just a flash in the pan or will be a key part of banking leadership out into the future.
Below are highlights, edited for clarity, from the episode.
Why are banks focusing on innovation?
U.S. Bank has a large payments business, which makes us kind of unique. Because the size of our payments business and the innovations happening in payments, we started the innovation group about 10 years ago focused solely on the retail payments side. We began to build out a practice by looking what was happening in fintech and emerging technology. Our original objective was to change the paradigm around how we did product development and to test and learn, fail fast, and hopefully less expensively for new things that weren’t quite well known. We then expanded that to the rest of our payments business lines and a couple of years ago, we expanded the innovation group to the rest of the bank.
U.S. Bank’s brand of innovation
Every institution innovates differently. Our approach is to work with the businesses to understand their objectives and strategies. We want to keep a long-term eye on emerging technology and how consumers and businesses interact with technology. We’ll blend that into the product development roadmaps for the businesses. In some cases, emerging technology will look like it has a lot of potential but then you really have to see how it applies to a business, whether it solves a customer problem or pain point, and whether it can scale to a company our size. I don’t know if this is different than others, but it’s definitely our approach.
Things like design thinking and empathy building have been built into our practice. We’ve also evolved the way we’ve handled research. We’ve done ethnographic studies on our customers and use that to identify pain points and future problems to solve. This model isn’t unique to innovation but it may be in financial services in general and banking in particular.
How do you judge success in innovation?
The first thing we do is ask what problem we’re solving. If you’re not actually solving a business problem, it could just be a shiny new object that’s interesting only to us. The next thing is to think about the technical feasibility and product performance. Early on, we could do this as a proof of concept to just prove whether the technology does what it promises to do. We then check to see if it’s scalable and can be run at the enterprise level. Lastly, we check to see if the behavioral changes occur that we expect to happen.
All along that journey, there are different dates we use to measure and check to see if we’re reaching our desired objectives. If we’re not, we want to know that early so we don’t continue to invest time and resources. That’s back to the fail-fast principle. When we look longer term, at the portfolio level, we’re measuring our throughput — how many new ideas are coming into the idea funnel and are being evaluated. Of those ideas, we see how many are turned into POCs or pilots. And once you get into the pilot phase, we measure how many of those are ultimately converted or commercialized into a product or a feature of a product. If we’re generating enough good ideas, we should see a fair level of conversion at the portfolio level.