Dr. Kebbel, will banks as we know them today still exist in ten years’ time?
None of us can really say what the business model of Landesbanken – or indeed banks in general – will look like ten years from now. And yet the job we are doing revolves around precisely this issue: digitalisation is a force for novelty in the world. We have to be prepared to risk new approaches if we as a bank are still to be here in ten years’ time with a good business, a good relationship with our customers and the ability to keep on evolving and reinventing ourselves.
Your department has been working on a digitalisation roadmap for Helaba since March 2016. How do customers stand to gain from this?
Essentially our work is all about improving quality and service, picking up the pace and driving out complexity. We want to make it easier – faster, more convenient and more transparent – for our customers to interact with us and bank with us. Digitalisation uses the interface to the customer as the fulcrum for change and we too consequently started from this interface. We criss-crossed Germany asking our corporate and real estate customers, our payment transactions customers and the Sparkassen about what they expect from us and what they need us to provide. What we learned enabled us to set out some priorities and make a start on the first step: rethinking our interfaces with digital media in order to give our customers what they want.
And what emerged as the top priority?
We are working on the implementation of two prototype customer portals, or more accurately one customer portal with one underlying technology for two different customer groups and their specific needs: corporate customers and real estate customers. In the real estate financing process, for example, transparency is a very
important issue: customers want to know where they stand, why things are taking so long and what happens next. Customers would like to be able to see at a glance how far along they are in the process, who needs to do what next, where the onus is on them and where it is on the bank. The process remains opaque to them without this information. Our portal removes the mystery.
When will the prototypes be going online?
We hope to have them online in the summer of 2017, by which time I think we should also already have our first payment transactions apps. What we are working on in the payment transactions field is a portal for managing and creating mandates, although the full functionality will only become available with phase two. To start with we will have a smartphone app that allows users to create a mandate – hopefully in the first half of 2017.
Digitalisation is a marathon rather than a sprint. Where are the next stages going to take you?
Having tackled the customer interface, we are now into a second wave of project work to address the underlying processes. Right now we are deeply involved with the question of how we can shape these processes to bring about real, meaningful efficiency gains.
It sounds from what you say as though digitalisation also has implications for structures and teamwork at Helaba. Is that so?
Yes, absolutely. Helaba understands that it is only possible to develop new ways of doing things and disrupt existing internal structures and routines through projects that operate in accordance with agile methodology, which means first and foremost projects that have a product owner. Why not a project manager? Because the product owner is much more than a project manager. The product is effectively the product owner’s baby: he or she lives for this product, thinks deeply about all aspects of it, possesses all of the relevant expertise and, most importantly, approaches the whole matter from the customer perspective. And the product owner makes the decisions, directly. We identified product owners within Helaba in the first wave,
assembled new interdisciplinary teams around them and involved our colleagues from IT from the outset, eventually creating a whole new ecosystem. This has created completely new opportunities for team members to bring their input to bear.
Digitalisation as a motivational boost for staff, in other words?
We now have in place a methodology that enables people properly to appreciate the pleasure, value and broader purpose of their efforts. Fostering and promoting this aspect is part of our job: we have to make sure not just that the bank develops, but that its people are able develop with it. Employees are working at the moment with astounding commitment: the air is crackling with ideas.
What else can Helaba do to gain an edge over the competition?
We are not the first to ask this question but we are certainly by no means the last either. The Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe has previously been concerned with digitalisation principally in the context of private customer business, but we are now making it clear that digitalisation and digitalisation projects have a role to play in corporate customer business too – and with some interesting approaches and solutions. We will soon start putting our propositions online and making their added value available to customers. We are staking out a position within the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe too because we are offering new ideas and methods for corporate customer business, which is a key source of income for the Sparkassen- Finanzgruppe. We want to find partners, build coalitions and share ideas on this basis within the extensive Sparkassen- Finanzgruppe to help usher in the new.
What about fintechs? How do you approach the start-ups of the financial sector?
Ah yes, the much-trumpeted competition with the fintechs. They have the innovations, but we have the customers. It doesn’t take much insight to realise that teamwork potentially represents a win-win situation for both. It makes sense to keep one’s eyes open, to understand what the fintechs are up to, to engage with the issues raised and to work with them on joint developments.
All kinds of most interesting possibilities have emerged already and we are watching carefully to see just what can be achieved. And we are very much on the lookout for
opportunities to collaborate too, but we need to be selective and ensure that we only become involved where there are real benefits in play for us and for our customers.
You yourself are involved as a mentor with the Frankfurt TechQuartier community, a new hub for fintechs. How does that work?
To be honest the mentoring side has yet to begin really – TechQuartier has only been in existence since December 2016. One aspect that has already caught my eye, however, is the sheer variety of people: I see start-up founders who are barely into their twenties and others who are easily pushing 50. I welcome the extra opportunity for discussion in any case and we will see down the line to what extent we are able to be of assistance to each other.
What elements of your own character do you find most useful in your work?
Patience (laughs). I’m not overly endowed with it, but it is definitely the most important thing. Of course a certain enthusiasm for the unknown and for creating new ways also helps; that and a measure of persistence.
„Fintechs have the innovations, but we, the banks, have the customers. Teamwork represents a win-win Situation.“
Dr. Gehard Kebbel
Leading the Digitalisation Strategic Project unit