Fintech moves business out of the silo mentality: StartmeupHK panel

Advances in the application of financial technology or “fintech” in business is as much about companies finding new ways of thinking and acting as it is about adoption of new hardware or software, suggested a panel at Next Money Asia’s Fintech Finals 2018.

The panel, called “Innovation Practices & Approaches that (actually) work”, heard from several speakers about the potential benefits from changes in corporate culture. This included abandonment of the practice of company departments or companies themselves acting alone without reference to others – referred to during the panel as working in “silos”, as per the language of business jargon.

One of the speakers on this topic was Amanda Williams, head of Nest Innovation, a business unit of Hong Kong-based venture capital business Nest, which was founded in 2010.

“When I was in corporate innovation and corporate venture capital, we were doing things very much in silos,” she stated. “The VCT [venture capital team] would go out, meet a start-up, invest; and the rest of the corporation wouldn’t know what was going on.”

Companies have now evolved and are creating new paths for innovation via a more open approach, said Ms Williams.

“In my current role, we are working with DBS – which is already quite an innovative bank – here in Hong Kong. And when we take them to meet start-ups… they are bringing in people from a range of disciplines because they are creating this ecosystem internally to talk about innovation,” she explained.

Fellow panellist, Adrian Seto, senior director for innovation and fintech in Asia Pacific at professional services firm Accenture, based in Hong Kong, said: “Our digital studio at Accenture is built as a collaborative space, where we have clients come in and talk to [the start-ups]. But we also have clients that see [encounter] other clients.”

In one case, representatives from sportswear brand Adidas were at Accenture’s digital studio facility at the same time as representatives from Asia Miles, a customer rewards programme of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, the largest Hong Kong-based airline.

Mr Seto said: “With Adidas, we helped them launch a digital vending machine… During one of the [session] breaks, the Asia Miles people saw what they were doing, and said ‘How can we… be part of your digital vending machine?’”

As a result, Asia Miles were incorporated as a reward for users of the Adidas vending machine, said the executive.

If the respective firms had been working “in their own in a silo… they would never come together,” suggested the Accenture representative.

Veronika Kuznetsova is managing director Hong Kong, for Hong Kong-based SuperCharger, described as a “start-up for start-ups”. The firm is interested in working with enterprises across a range of digital products, including payments and processing; security and anti-fraud; regulation and compliance, “big data”; asset and wealth management; crowdfunding; and insuretech.

She stated during the panel: “I have seen some sort of evolution of innovation culture in the past couple of years. Originally it started as more like renovation: an organisation had a problem and said, ‘We need to fix these things to make them work better’.  Now, I think people look at it differently.”

She added that firms still got involved in what she termed “these marginal improvement projects,” that could deliver fast results. But many companies were now having “larger scale rethinking” about the way they do things, noted Ms Kuznetsova.

The panel was part of the StartmeupHK Festival 2018 event, an initiative of the Hong Kong government InvestHK agency, held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.