“If you're not innovating, you're doing the opposite of innovating, which means you have just a period of time before your company or your idea ceases to exist.” -Matt Maxey

You don’t have to be a genius inventor to be innovative and take your brand to the next level. It’s all about seeing, thinking, and then doing differently. Brands need to keep an open mind and be willing to think beyond their own industry and collaborate with others to truly achieve innovation.

This idea of thinking outside the box and seeking partnerships to create something different to propel your brand forward was the topic of conversation on a Banking on Digital Growth Podcast with guest Matt Maxey, Head of Innovation at Synovus, with nearly 20 years of experience in the financial industry.

Why Financial Brands Need to Be More Innovative

Banks and credit unions need to move past the conventional mental framework they are used to and move their company ahead and into the future.

"My job is really to do two primary things: help our organization see differently, and therefore think differently, and then do differently," says Matt.

Once a brand starts thinking differently, they begin to see things differently, and only then can they take action towards the necessary steps to make innovative changes that will propel them forward.

Traditional banking products or services are still essential. There is no arguing that. People will always need liquidity and a place to grow and build their assets, but innovation is about finding new ways to accomplish these conventional things more efficiently and effectively.

Change and growth are necessary to move forward. So if financial brands want to continue to exist in the future and remain relevant in today’s digitally-savvy market, they have to find ways to be more innovative.

Innovation is a Necessary Risk (But It’s Not as Hard as You Might Think)

Of course, innovation is scary—it’s a risk. Many banks and credit unions have avoided or are against innovation because when they try to apply it practically, it fails or falls flat. But this is generally a misconception derived from half-hearted attempts or lack of even trying.

You have to take risks and be willing to make mistakes before discovering what works best.

Think of it like Edison with the light bulb. It’s a commonly used anecdote that people are potentially tired of hearing at this point, but it’s useful because it’s true. Edison tried over 10,000 times to find a way to make the light bulb work. But he only needed to find one way. And he did. 

Fear of failure is keeping financial brands from attempting innovation. It’s not because it doesn’t work or it won’t work; it’s because they just haven’t put enough effort into finding the right way that works best for them. But there is always a way, it just takes time and hard work to get there and to find it.

The thing is, banks and credit unions don’t need to invent the light bulb to drive value for their account holders. They don't have to come up with something completely unique to be innovative. And they don’t have to make some incredible, breakthrough discovery to have an impact—but they do have to be willing to try something new and different to branch out from what they traditionally offer.

The Fundamental Principles Behind Innovation

1. Discipline

Innovation takes discipline, and that’s the fundamental thing that brands need to remember. It’s like trying to build muscle in the gym. Having some ideas for how to accomplish this and trying them once or twice is not going to get you results. You have to be willing to be in the gym every day working on building that muscle and be willing to try new things when one exercise doesn't work. Everyone’s body is different—just like every bank and brand is different.

You have to be willing to try over and over again every day, working on those innovative ideas until something sticks and you start to see results. But it won’t happen in a day or even weeks. It takes brands months, even years of continual trial and error to find what works best for them. It’s not easy, but it pays off. 

2. Teamwork

The second fundamental principle for achieving innovation is teamwork. A lot of companies shy away from innovation because the people that run and manage the company think they just aren’t creative enough. They believe that their lack of creativity and innovation is what is stopping them from taking their brand to new places.

But the thing about innovation is that you can’t do it alone. You have to think beyond your own mind. Some of the best ideas come from inspiration from others and the world around us. So for a brand to truly be innovative, they need to make it a collaborative process. Whether that’s by hiring out-of-the-box thinkers within their own company or partnering with other organizations and brands, like fintechs.

3. Trying Something New

The third principle of innovation is to learn something new every day. This is basic stuff, especially for those in leadership roles. To be a good leader and to run a business, you have to continually better yourself and your mind. And this works the same with innovation.

It is also highly beneficial for financial brands to learn about things outside of their own industry. Again, if you only consider what is right in front of you, what you are already familiar with, you’ll never discover what is possible. So one of the key elements in being innovative is to look at other industries and other companies and see what they are doing.

Applying the practices and processes from another industry might not always work, but it does have the potential to be revolutionary when it is reapplied to the finance industry. It might just take some tweaking to make it relevant for financial purposes.

Like Edison, financial brands need to be willing to try numerous different ways to do something until they find the solution or the idea that works best for them.

4. Innovation In Practice

Knowing that innovation takes teamwork and collaboration is one thing, but putting it into practice is another. It can be especially hard for financial brands that have been hesitant to work with fintechs and other organizations out of fear of it being too big of a risk. But the thing to keep in mind is that you can’t do this alone. If you truly want to achieve something great, it’s going to come from a place that is beyond yourself and your business.

Take those risks and those leaps and start reaching out to other brands and organizations who can bring new ideas and solutions to the table. Most banks do not have the technology and the resources themselves to achieve innovation on their own, which is why it’s essential to partner with others who do.

Matt mentions that there is this saying in agile methodology that you fail fast and fail forward—and that’s true. Whether you are agile with a concept or agile with a practice, it doesn’t matter.

The idea is to keep iterating on the last failed attempt repeatedly until you get exactly where you want to be. Stop thinking of failing as a setback and think of it as a forward motion that is getting them closer and closer to the thing that will eventually bring success.

Understandably, you want to do this with the least amount of cost and risk possible. Still, if you give up every time you fail, you’re never going to get anywhere. It’s all about finding that balance between necessary and unnecessary risks. 

Having a specific goal in mind can help brands stay on track and keep them from taking too many risks that take them off course. 

So think about that North Star. Think about what it is, how to get to it, and what you should avoid along the way. This doesn’t mean that you won’t still make mistakes along the way or wade into risky waters, but it will help your business overall stay on a reasonably focused and ethical path towards innovation.

The Future of Banking

As financial brands and banks move forward and start to think about innovation and the future of banking, it’s important not to get too caught up in technology and the metaverse that they forget about the human element of banking. All of these technologies that allow us to be more innovative and offer new services and products are great, but people still want to have connections with other people.

We don’t want to wake up one day and find ourselves living in this world that looks and feels so different that we can’t relate to others and find a connection. Our world is changing and becoming more digital, but that’s why it’s so important for brands to maintain that human element and to show that they still care about their customers and their communities.

Use technology to enhance your capabilities and propel your brand forward, but don’t forget about the human experience. Nobody wants to constantly be interacting with robots throughout their entire day. They still want to engage with brands that haven’t entirely lost the human touch through their digital transformation and automation.

People still need people. And technology has the power to connect us with more people and more communities. It is this amazing tool that can do all of these things and broaden our reach, but it’s important not to take it so far that you forget about what really matters. And with most businesses, what matters most are your people—your customers and your employees. You want to keep making them happy and showing them that you care to ensure you continue to exist and continue to grow and make money.