Spotlight on Zürcher Kantonalbank - The power of connection

November 24, 2021

We talked to Fabian Keller, Innovation & Business Engineering Expert at the Innovation Lab of Zürcher Kantonalbank, about the power of connection and the bank's experience being corporate partner of F10 since 2018.

Spotlight on Zürcher Kantonalbank - The power of connection

We talked to Fabian Keller, Innovation & Business Engineering Expert at the Innovation Lab of Zürcher Kantonalbank, about the power of connection and the bank's experience being corporate partner of F10 since 2018.

How the ZKB Innovation lab came to be

The innovation lab was created around 7 years ago by Daniel Previdoli, Head of Products, Services & Direct Banking, and Remo Schmidli, Head IT, Operations & Real Estate, to experiment with and test new solutions, specifically in the area of customers and multichannel management. Interestingly, you could say that the innovation lab was launched overnight. It was a spontaneous idea, implemented very quickly – and the idea was successful.

The way the innovation lab is set up has changed over time. It started with its own project management and dedicated developers. At some point, there were 5 developers working full time on projects from the innovation lab.

However, we realized that there were so many diverse topics and projects emerging that we needed more flexibility and the involvement from specialists from various departments all over the organization. So, we changed how the innovation lab operates to respond to our needs.

The recipe to success

We work on a technological and strategic level and with both internal and external resources. Today, the core team consists of myself, with a business engineering background, and a colleague of mine, with a strategy background. We realized that it was crucial to create connections internally. Only the focus on technology and the development of new services and business models trough proof of concepts is not enough, we needed to ensure that solutions would be strategically integrated in the bank.

Together, we make sure that projects are set-up and run smoothly, engage cross-functional teams and raise awareness, as well as ensure strategic implementation in the organization.

Rising complexity called for new approaches

In the early stages, we developed new ideas that solved very concrete problems for customers or features that would be popular – for example the Zurich dialect language version of our banking app. This worked great, people like it.

But it’s a different story when you start working on more complex problems with a lot of moving parts, where you need to involve many people internally. When the change has an impact on whole customer journeys. This requires many more conversations internally, the raising of awareness on new technologies, new solutions, new ways of working and the benefits of working with startups to bring in new expertise and solutions.

2018, when we became part of the F10 ecosystem, it was a great opportunity to expose people internally to the startup world, new ways of working and new technologies. In parallel, the Trends and Innovation department, run by Attila Makra who is co-leading the F10 program with me, launched our intrapreneurship program “Kickbox” to provide a space for personal development of employees and teams. Combined, this definitely accelerated a cultural change. Now, a large part of the organization has moved to agile, cross-departmental ways of working.

At Zürcher Kantonalbank, we invest 10-14m per year in Swiss early-stage startups. Therefore, we had already irregular touchpoints and exchanges with startups. However, these startups tended to be very diverse and not necessarily focused on FinTech which is one of our main focus areas. With F10, we started to target specific problems and see large volumes of startups that address pain points in that area.

That enabled us to have many more touchpoints and discussions about innovation with departments that traditionally had not been involved in innovation projects. We started working with asset management, with real estate valuation, and many others. It was a door opener to open conversations with departments all over the organization.

The value of an innovation ecosystem like F10

Our motivation, from the beginning, was that it is a network that brings relevant local players together. F10 gives you the opportunity to sit with other banks and insurance companies at the same table and talk about innovation topics openly, hear others’ opinions, experiences and assessments.

Being part of F10 means exchange with investors, experts, coaches, other colleagues from the financial services industry. That exposure to so many different perspectives is incredibly inspiring, enables new ideas to emerge and helps identify potential synergies.

The informal exchanges and events are as valuable as the formal aspects of the partnership. Being able to meet investors, former founders, startups, other colleagues from innovation departments in the same space. That’s unique and that’s how promising connections emerge.

Connection is an important keyword here. We might not have a use case for a startup right now, but investing time and effort in the success of startups with interesting solutions opens up new opportunities in the future. Therefore, we always try to provide connections to important stakeholders, or advice on platform integrations, setting the stage for potential future collaborations.

Connecting the dots

Connection through F10 has enabled many collaborations with startups from the ecosystem.

Case: PXL Vision

One case in point is our collaboration with F10 alumni PXL Vision. We knew PXL Vision already before their participation in F10 as we had several conversations previously – but an informal meeting at F10's CEO's dinner between our CEO and PXL Vision finally lit the spark. Now we are in a very close collaboration, where we are working on an exciting project that will bring added value not only to Zürcher Kantonalbank, but also other banks Switzerland.

Case: Sonect

Sonect enables cash withdrawals through your smartphone. We’ve known them since they were part of the F10 incubation program back in 2016. Last year, we started an internal pilot with them: the first integration with their SDK directly integrated into our mobile banking solution.

Based on the results and findings we decided that it wasn’t the right fit for our own banking app, but could be of great value for our colleagues at Twint. Twint had seen such growth during the pandemic, it made sense to roll this out on a larger scale as the whole business model relies on having lots uf users to participate.

Case: 0per

Just recently, we developed a prototype with 0per. We saw them the first time in the F10 incubation program in 2018. It took several more touchpoints until the time was right and we decided to kick-off a project.

F10 is often that initial contact point and enables connecting in the future. It’s always a great conversation opener with and for startups.

An educational experience

Looking back at the past almost four years, I’ve probably seen more than 350 startups across a variety of events. Lots of them even at F10's previous residency at Förrlibuckstrasse 10.

From blockchain, AI, to RegTech and everything in between. Startups from India to Norway. Families building a venture together to graduates from top-class business schools. It’s an incredible broadening of horizons in FinTech.

At the same time, you develop a sharper scale of assessment. The potential of a startup does not only come from the solution it provides and the technology it uses, it’s also strongly connected to the founding team, their story, motivation, and their spirit. There are also startups that surprise you and exceed your expectations making sure you question your assessment regularly.

Independently of the personal development this represents for anyone working in the innovation space – it is experience and expertise you cannot buy at a university.

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