The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has technology scouting networks in Silicon Valley, Israel, London, and Edinburgh to make sure it is up to date with the latest technology trends.
Banks are facing a wave of competition from fintech — financial technology — startups that operate and look more like a Facebook or Google than a traditional lender — think app-only bank Tandem or international money transfer service TransferWise. Big banks are now scrambling to keep up with the pace of change.
RBS wants to make sure it has its ear to the ground in areas of tech innovation and has a scouting network around the world, just like a football club looking for a hot new prospect that can take it to the next level.
Kevin Hanley, head of design at RBS, told Business Insider at an SAP event on disruption in banking this week: “I have a team on the ground in Silicon Valley, it has been there for just over 2 years now. It is a reasonably small team but massively connected into the innovation ecosystem. This is everyone the Facebooks and the Apples of the world through to a startup, south of Market Street [an area in San Francisco where Twitter is based].”
RBS was the first financial services company to adopt Facebook at Work, the social network’s corporate intranet product, and Hanley says the bank’s presence on the ground in California helped get that deal done.
“Being on the ground as opposed to flying in every 6 months is important because to benefit from the ecosystem you have to contribute to it and you can’t do that if you’re sat in Bishop’s Gate reading about it. You have to have people on the ground who are willing to network, run events, contribute, do whatever because that’s almost the currency that then lets you benefit.”
He adds: “The team has seen over 1,000 technology companies in the last year. That team is well connected with the VC community — your [Marc] Andreessens, Sequoia, Intel Capital, Silicon Valley Bank, so on and so forth. It is well connected into academia which is massively important actually because a lot of the thinking around customer-led design comes out of the west coast. It is connected into Stanford and Berkeley and Singularity University.
RBS does not have a team in Israel but Hanley says it has “more of a curated, facilitated engagement.”
“We use organisations such as the UK/Israeli Tech Hub to help build our relationships and our networks. We have got relationships with the largest Israeli banks. And we are now well connected with the VC community in Israel. We do not have a physical team on the ground in Israel but through that process probably once every 3 months we will have an extended time on the ground.”
While RBS looks to Silicon Valley for guidance on design-led thinking, Hanley says Israel produces more cutting edge ideas and technology around cyber security, data and analytics and blockchain technology.
Hanley adds: “Close to home we have got our London and Edinburgh connections which are massively important to us, the broader entrepreneurial community in the UK.”
‘Our executive committee are engaged’
RBS, like most big banks, has been dogged with huge fines and also has to contend with the fact that is it taxpayer-owned. The bank also faces mounting losses, delays selling off its William & Glynn arm and jobs are being cut.
Despite this full in-tray, Hanley says the board and management are both fully on board with the tech and innovation agenda.
He says: “Once a quarter I need to provide the board with an update both on innovation. They literally ask every quarter, what are we doing in the innovation space. Every quarter alongside the specific things we are doing, I provide a deep dive on the underlying disruptive technologies. The last 3 that we have done were blockchain, AI, and APIs.
“Every one of those updates follows that thread of ‘can you explain what this technology means, can you explain how it’s being used, how much it affect retail banking’ and more importantly ‘what are we doing about it.'”
He adds: “Our executive committee is engaged with it as well. Almost without exception, all of our executive committee under Ross McEwan have been out to Silicon Valley at least once in the past 12 months.”
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