Wüstenrot – How agile, customer-centric and cross-team innovation can secure a competitive advantage in the financial sector

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Digital change has been keeping the financial sector in suspense for some time. The financial sector is also facing the effects of digitisation and the accompanying abstraction of products and services that were once tangible in the truest sense of the word.

Since 1925, Wüstenrot is a synonym for building saving in Austria. Today, the Wüstenrot Group is a Central European financial corporation. Around 2,400 employees in Austria, Croatia and Slovakia very successfully serve more than 2.1 million customers with complete solutions from a single source in the areas of savings, financing, retirement planning and insurance. In 2018, Nina Tamerl, Head of Innovation & Marketing, initiated an internal innovation offensive to adapt product and service innovations more flexibly to the changing market and to prepare the organization for the requirements of the digital revolution.

In three phases, innovative ideas and concepts were born, sharpened, discussed, refined and are now being implemented.

Phase 1 – an internal idea contest

In an internal idea contest, open to all employees of the company, ideas for new products and services as well as internal improvement ideas could be submitted over a period of 12 weeks. At the end, a jury of internal innovation officers and the innovation team selected 11 ideas out of more than 60 submissions, that stepped into the next phase, a three-day Innovation Camp, for further development.

Dr. Giordano Koch, HYVE Innovate GmbH

Away from team-internal feedback loops towards real user focus.

Dr. Giordano Koch, HYVE Innovate

Phase 2 – a three-day InnoCamp together with HYVE

In September 2018 the teams, heterogeneously composed of employees from Wüstenrot and innovation experts with their selected ideas and experts from HYVE, came together for a three-day InnoCamp in Salzburg and worked on the best ideas of the internal competition to further develop them in product concepts.

“Particularly profitable”, says HYVE’s Managing Director Dr. Giordano Koch, “was the heterogeneity of the teams, which really brought diverse skills and competences, qualifications and mindsets with them. In particular, customer feedback was included in the InnoCamp: away from team-internal feedback loops towards real user focus. The InnoCamp teams, for example, put the ideas literally on the street on the first day; they pitched their ideas in the streets of Salzburg and collected feedback and opinions from pedestrians “The effort to do this in a supermarket almost led to an arrest,” smiles Giordano Koch. ” the teams literally gave everything“.

In addition to live feedback, the teams also took advantage of digital overnight feedback. On the second evening all ideas were put into the HYVE Crowd and could be discussed and evaluated overnight by the users, experts and creatives of the HYVE Crowd with the aim of sharpening and refining the ideas. Over 80 detailed comments and suggestions came together overnight, which were incorporated into the further development by the teams on the third day. The ideas were no longer internal ideas, but their further development enriched by customer wishes and ideas. On the last day of the InnoCamp, the teams prepared their pitches and presented them to selected executives from Wüstenrot.

Phase 3 – Innovation pitches within the scope of the annual sales kick-offs

The final pitch of the ideas found a framework that could hardly be bigger: the annual Wüstenrot Convention at the end of January 2019 in St. Wolfgang.  A two-hour innovation block within the event with around 300 guests from Wüstenrot signaled the importance and appreciation of the increasingly strong innovation culture in the company. “The fact that a strongly sales-oriented organisation takes the time during an annual kick-off event to make employee innovation a central topic is remarkable and by no means self-evident,” says Giordano Koch.

Wüstenrot trophy
Winner trophy

At the official jury meeting, the teams pitched their concept ideas in front of a jury consisting of Wüstenrot board members and external experts. An auditorium consisting of executives from the central units and sales as well as financial consultants and external partners, who were able to participate interactively in the jury’s discussion with an evaluation app and ask questions to the pitchers.

Our employees are motivated – I can definitely confirm that. Above all, it is important – and I believe that many people fail to take the employees and their ideas seriously and to support them as mentors during implementation, because they don’t work in the field of innovation every day. The founder spirit also plays a major role, which means that the idea provider must be fully committed, just as we know it from startup founders, and take responsibility when it comes to implementation. (Nina Tamerl)

Phase 4 – a realization of the winning ideas

What is exciting is that the three winning ideas go beyond the current, classic offer of Wüstenrot and thus also allow potentially more disruptive market access. In an Innovation Lab format, the ideas are now raised to an MVP level in the shortest possible time and further sharpened with regard to their product market fit.

The five success drivers at a glance:

  1. heterogeneous teams from different areas, with different competencies and mindsets.
  2. anchoring innovation offensives in the most important annual event.
  3. true customer focus in product development.
  4. a mix of methods from Contest, Ideation, InnoCamp, modern crowd logic as well as fast and agile product development.
  5. involvement of top management and associated high commitment for implementation.

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