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Innovation Spotlight on VNTR - Innovation and venturing by PostFinance

November 15, 2021

PostFinance has been a corporate partner in the F10 FinTech & InsurTech ecosystem since 2018. We talked to Alice Dal Fuoco, Head of Innovation at VNTR and Luca Sigrist, Lead Open Innovation, to understand their approach to innovation and talk about why innovation teams will look very different in the future.

A 360° degree approach

In the VNTR team, we combine all of PostFinance’s activities around foresight, open innovation, venture building and corporate venture capital. Our goal is to ensure that PostFinance does not miss out on any big trends and we stay relevant in the market in the long-term.

The PostFinance innovation team was already established 2013. Out of that, the PFLab emerged (now re-branded as VNTR) in 2015 and in 2016 PostFinance started its investment activities through the newly formed corporate venture capital team. In 2018, the innovation and CVC team emerged into one team to drive innovation and venturing within and outside PostFinance.

To ensure the best possible solutions to our challenges, we tackle innovation projects from all angles: We work closely with startups, we build our own solutions internally, and we invest in promising startups.

Bringing innovation capabilities into the organization

Within VNTR, we generally focus on Horizon 3 (H3) innovation, strongly future oriented solutions which are far away from our core business with a high degree of innovation. However, we realized that innovation was also crucial within PostFinance’s core business and that it would help us bring the innovation mindset into the organization. Since we started to support our business units, we were able to develop a deeper understanding of their day-to-day business and how we could use our innovation capabilities and partner network to help them tackling their challenges.  

Compared to three years ago, we gained a better understanding of how startups and PostFinance can profit from each other and how such collaborations and proof of concepts need to be managed in order to succeed and deliver value for both sides.  

Foresight-driven innovation at PostFinance

At PostFinance, we practice foresight driven innovation as part of the early exploration phase of our innovation process. Hence, we went through the process of a 360° trend scan that was synthesized and refined into four future scenarios. From there, we defined strategically relevant innovation fields. Within those innovation fields we are now looking for specific opportunities inside and outside our core business. Based on these opportunities, we start the exploration phase and do some preliminary validation steps, and then initiate the innovation process.  

The areas we are currently focusing on are Digital Assets, Data Economy, Impact Banking, Payment Ecosystems and Health & Wealth.  

The Buy or Make decision

We strongly believe in open innovation and therefore see great potential in collaborating and investing in promising startups. Those kind of initiatives help innovation teams to bridge the gap between the different innovation horizons and support the internal stakeholders by finding suitable collaboration partners and tackle different challenges. This is the reason why we started partnerships with incubators and accelerators, such as F10. We wanted to be more strategic in screening startups for our business units and benefit from the great network that F10 has established for the last years. We realized that there were formats that have expertise and network and if we join forces with other partners, we could do this on a much larger scale.

However, the innovation topics we are usually aiming for are further away from our core business, and therefore need different approaches and methods to be cultivated and validated. But we can’t concentrate our activities on our innovation fields only, we also allow some wild cards within the process, in order to not be missing out on great opportunities that might come up.  

Alice dal Fuoco, Head of Innovation

Examples

There’s a wide variety of innovation initiatives that we have been running, such as  

  • Ormera: In 2019, we launched Ormera – a platform for measuring and billing self-produced energy with a fully automated, dlt-based process. This was a project we developed together with the utility company EWB. After the validation of the product market fit, both parties saw a great potential in the initiative and decided to build a joint-venture to bring the solution to market.  
  • Tilbago: Tilbago is a cost-effective electronic handling of debt collection. This is an example of an external team that approached us with an idea that we supported with our innovation process as well as an early-stage investment.  
  • Swiss Climate Challenge & Green Coin: This is a very exciting project we launched together with Swisscom to measure the mobility footprint. Now we want to take this further and measure the footprint of bank transactions to get a more holistic image, with the goal of using a DLT (blockchain) based currency to change behavior.  The behavioral-based-currency Green Coin,  is now being tested within the Swiss Climate Challenge. The currency as well as the mobility footprint are an initiative by Swisscom and PostFinance.
  • Decentriq: In terms of collaborations, we have been working on a PoC with Decentriq and SwissPost, focused on privacy enhancing technologies that would allow a secure address verification. Here we are exploring data clean rooms powered by confidential computing to create a seal of trust. This means no one gets access to the data, but you can still extract insights.

Luca Sigrist, Lead Open Innovation

Innovation teams are dead. Long live innovation teams.

Innovation teams will need to reinvent themselves in the future. The goal of an innovation team is to make a company more innovative – to embed that mindset within the organization and ultimately enable business units to run such projects themselves. Which means that what we do now will change in the future and innovation teams as they exist today will become obsolete.  

However, there will still be a need to ensure business units have the necessary resources to explore what is outside the daily business. Additionally, there are exciting topics still in their early stages that will be important to explore in the future, such as ecosystem design or corporate venture building.

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