By Ron Daly, President/CEO
Virtual StrongBox, Inc.


While today’s technology is disrupting all industries, those of us in financial services think of it mostly in terms of digital bank services and marketing. We ask, How do our customers want to interact with us? Which digital strategies will make us most competitive? When will see a bottom-line benefit from our investment?

But when I recently got my annual flu shot, I started thinking about the ways new technologies are put to use in other areas, like fighting disease. The first flu vaccine was developed in 1945, and now researchers are closing in on a one-time universal vaccine, per last month’s Science Daily. Can you imagine? No more yearly flu shots! We’ve seen many advances in a relatively short time … polio has been eradicated from most of the world, and diseases like measles, mumps and rubella seldom pop up. Just in the last 10 years, we’ve seen inoculations for malaria, HPV, dengue fever and, now, ebola.

Stop Status-Quo Thinking

We know vaccinations save lives, but there’s another type of inoculation that is a killer for new technology in financial institutions: It’s called the “corporate immune system.” Here’s how Wikipedia defines it:

“a process within corporations that demands organizations within the company accomplish activities in a certain way, a form of conformity tendencies. It is, in effect, the active form of groupthink, when the past outcome of groupthink processes forces itself on organizations that are otherwise different.

“The term is most commonly used to describe such processes that drive out innovation and entrepreneurial activity within organizations.”

Simply put, the corporate immune system is trying to protect the status quo. That is, it’s trying to “preserve and protect the past.”

Too often, credit union executives worry about the time it takes to integrate new systems or processes, the costs involved, and the challenges of employee buy-in. A fear of failure and corporate hurdles often inoculate organizations against fresh ideas. Like some people worry about vaccines, financial institutions often fear new approaches. “What if it doesn’t work? What if it makes things worse? Better to stick with what we know.”

Isn’t it a good thing Jonas Salk didn’t feel that way? Health departments started giving out the innovative Salk polio vaccine in 1955, and within two years active U.S. cases fell by nearly 90%, with millions of people protected from the disease.

Things Are Changing …Slowly

Instead of dealing with the corporate immune system inside the organization, a number of banks are creating an environment that rewards internal and external innovation. In 2015, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology looked at several innovation labs to learn what shared factors lead to success. Here are four of the top traits they found, according to a Forbes article earlier this month:

  • Define the subject. Rather than expecting good ideas to bubble up naturally, serious innovators outline the problem/opportunity they want to address.

  • Go big. Forget trying to solve minor issues; go for the big ideas that can bring real improvement – and customer satisfaction.

  • Create a collaborative environment. Make sure all participants buy into a joint solution and share a mindset to work together for the best result

  • Avoid patchwork fixes. Innovation labs don’t think in terms of sticking patches on top of mediocre solutions. They look at problems holistically, taking in the customer’s point of view. Quick fixes seldom consider the best, most cost-effective outcomes.

Apart from the innovation labs, Tesla Motors heads Forbes 2016 list of “The World’s Most Innovative Companies,” followed by Under Armour, Monster Beverage Corporation, Adobe Systems, Amazon and Chipotle. Their practices include these tips:

  • Set aside specific time for innovative problem-solving.

  • Foster unbiased brainstorming.

  • Empower those who question why things are done a certain way to come up with improvements.

  • Pull participants from multiple disciplines so they can see the big picture, as well as areas that may seem obscure but could lead to major improvements.

Embrace the Art of the Possible

While most credit unions and community banks don’t have the resources for a fully integrated innovation lab, you can encourage your own intrapreneurial culture, aided by the assistance of smart technology innovation firms.

At Virtual StrongBox, our APIs and technical knowledge make it easy to ensure enterprise IT level high security, and to develop new features that solve problems like outdated technology and inefficient workflow. Visit Virtual StrongBox for use cases and to learn how we’re helping banks “think differently,” bridging the gap between their legacy systems and customers’ technology to drive forward a “consumer first” IT strategy.

Of course, not all ideas work out. Anyone remember the meat-flavored bottled water for pets? But a few misguided products shouldn’t make banks fear innovative solutions that save time and money, while enhancing their customers’ experience.