Innovation and Startup collaboration – Interview with Liesa Feis and Wiebke Drescher from ING DiBa

TechQuartier recently had the opportunity to sit with Liesa Feis and Wiebke Drescher, both members of the ING DiBa Strategy and Innovation team. They shared some interesting insights about ING DiBa’s innovation methods, agile transformation, experimental thinking, and their involvement in Frankfurt’s startup ecosystem. After our previous interview with CEO Nick Jue, it was great to get the perspective of the people in charge of implementing the innovation strategy on an operational level.

Liesa and Wiebke are 2 out of a 9-member department at ING DiBa. Both are working as FinTech consultants. The innovation team was created in 2016, its main objective being to test new ideas. Currently, ING-DiBa is in the middle of the agile transformation — a transformation that is scheduled to be completed by September 2018, according to an interview with CEO Nick Jue.

As a team, they strive to create an organizational structure through an innovation method called “PACE” which is based on concepts of design thinking, agility, and scrum. As a preparation to her current role, which involves sitting with managers and startups and figure out the best way to generate value-adding collaborations, it is interesting to know that Liesa participated in a 3-month acceleration program with an innovation coach who taught her about open innovation and design thinking concepts, innovation strategies which today have been incorporated into ING DiBa’s own methods.

Their team is focused on experimentation, validation, iteration adaptation and rapid evolutions. Within their team, their belief in “experimental thinking” requires projects to be built, written down, tested, and feedback to be generated and shared quickly for rapid pivots and improvements. It’s a classic pillar of the Lean Startup method, the ”Fail Fast” principle. For efficiency, projects are divided amongst small teams and subteams who work on different topics, build prototypes, and develop hypotheses. Their efforts are directed towards creating solutions for customers through problem-based approaches.

ING DiBa is involved in Frankfurt’s ecosystem through their efforts toward creating startup partnerships and promoting initiatives to solve customer issues. Wiebke explains that their team does not simply scout FinTechs as some would assume—ING DiBa is a progressive bank, but not everyone within the company is necessarily interested in the same FinTech initiatives. Although the team must have an “entrepreneurial mindset”, startups with innovative or “cool ideas” do not always have the qualifications to immediately be pushed into banks such as ING DiBa. These “cool ideas” require a convincing pitch as well as the ability to fulfill actual need or fix an actual problem.

There are three important steps for the Digital Strategy and Innovation team to take when making startup partnership decisions:

  1. Recognize problems and demands—find solutions.
  2. Submit the appropriate solution through recognition of opportunity, market research, and finding global teams that could contribute.
  3. Provide advice in the best interest of the startups and customers (not ING’s) and do research to support judgment on whether a startup collaboration is worth it.

Many startups experience difficulty in expanding their visibility as a result of a lack of access to resources. However, some helpful tools to search for startups include Tracxn, Deutsche Grunderszene, CB Insights and Crunchbase (not Google—it is much too expensive for most startups to advertise).

Dissimilar to corporate work environments, Liesa and Wiebke describe their innovative team as colourful and laid back. This type of environment has become very attractive to many young entrepreneurs, students, and interns. In order to promote the same in more corporate environments, coaching is incredibly important for both staff, in how to approach startups, and for startups, in how to be formal and professional in their interactions with corporates. By doing this, there will be an increased likelihood for increasing innovation and agility in work environments.

FinTechs are currently the heart of Frankfurt’s developing startup ecosystem. This focus on Fintech is essential to the region’s success, creating a deeply integrated cluster that has a tight knight community, strong industry links, proven expertise and international reach and connectedness, as demonstrated in the 2018 Frankfurt Startup Ecosystem Report.

“I have worked in a bank since 2011, and FinTech did not even exist… FinTech is becoming more transparent, and many FinTechs from the region are becoming successful and profitable within 3-4 years” Liesa Feis, Innovation Project Manager at ING DiBa

The increase of startup partnerships with ING DiBa have convinced founders to have confidence in their ideas and to gain experience in a corporate environment. There are many exciting opportunities to come with ING DiBa in the near future as new industries of startups are becoming known. They are always on the lookout for a win-win : for FinTech companies, it is an opportunity to develop new theories and models, to test them by accessing large data sets which banks can provide.

All in all, there is a lot of potential for the team of ING DiBa to be a key drivers of growth in both the startup world and their company for years to come!