Accenture’s FinTech Innovation Lab Launches In Asia – Forbes

Accenture, which launched the FinTech Innovation Lab in New York with the Partnership Fund for New York City in 2010, has now taken the concept to Asia. There the consultancy has joined with 10 leading financial institutions to launch a similar program in Hong Kong for applicants from across Asia. Accenture also runs a similar lab in London — taking promising startups into a 12-week program of working closely with banks to learn what a large enterprise needs and to learn how to find their ways around complex organizations. For banks, the lab offers an opportunity to see what is being developed among firms vetted by Accenture and a panel of bank technologists.

Neal Cross, chief innovation officer at DBS, the huge Singapore-based bank, said he had been impressed by some companies that had gone through the New York program, including Lenddo, which provides lending in emerging markets based on social media monitoring, and BillGuard.

“The FinTech Innovation Lab is a highly accessible way for banks to put their foot in the water and experiment with startups, which is what really attracted me to this program,” explained Cross. “Startups have a level of opportunity and innovation that a bank would like to utilize and the bank has massive scale, a huge customer base and the ability to scale out. In addition, Accenture has a nice, very easy framework to select the best startups and maturate them in a lab in Hong Kong.” DBS hopes to find startups which will help it improve the life of its customers, he added. DBS is already working with IBM to bring Watson into a program focused on cognitive computing and artificial intelligence, he added.

“I am looking for things to power the digital bank as we build it up in the region. What innovation can we bring to that?” commented Cross. “I hope to find startups that can plug into that strategy. It will be around the customer experience and customer touchpoints, less on data and more about the actual interaction with customers.”

Sushil Saluja, senior managing director of Accenture’s Asia-Pacific Financial Services practice, said the region’s changes mean banks will need more innovation. Asia is undergoing shifts in demographics with a growing middle class, more wealthy people, and a huge shift in trade flows across the region.

“Domestic institutions wish to be stronger in their home market, and institutions wishing to serve global customers are reaching out beyond their domestic markets as well.” Trade finance is a hot topic for financial firms in Asia, although it is too early to tell whether trade finance iniatives will come from the Lab applicants.

“Hong Kong’s role as a regional hub for the banking industry and the gateway for China investment made it an ideal location to launch our new Asia-Pacific Lab,” added Saluja. “By fostering the development of the next generation of financial technology companies, the Lab will further strengthen Hong Kong’s status as one of the world’s leading financial capitals.”

Cross who ran an innovation lab for MasterCard in Asia, has a fairly subtle view of what he wants for DBS. Banks have offered customers products for years; now they are paying attention to the channels customers use to do their banking and trying to improve the customers’ experience with the bank. For the Lab, he is looking for startups that are becoming part of customers’ lives.

“If we can find an interesting startup that is adding value to the life of our customers, that life or journey will hopefully have a transaction in there somewhere. How can we plug in a financial transaction? I am very passionate that we forget about the fact that we have products and services to sell and instead focus on what the customer are trying to achieve in their lives and then see how can we integrate that with financial services.” At key points in lives — getting married, buying a car or house and, although Cross didn’t mention it, getting divorced, money plays a big role and an alert bank can help.

Like probably every other banker in Asia, he is well aware of China Alibaba’s financial arm, Alipay (since spun out), which acquired 80 million customers in less than a year by offering better rates than the banks. Regulation restricts what a bank can do, he added, but banks are looking at partners like telcos and even handset makers to develop better mobile banking innovations.

“There is a misconception that innovation has to be technical or an app, but innovation just has to be successful,” Cross added. “Part of my job is trying to change the culture inside the bank; everyone can be an innovator. We are encouraging people to think more like a startup and how they can effect change inside the banks.”

Asia is seeing quite a lot of innovation, Cross added. In Singapore, banks customers can do instant transfer of funds between banks for free.

“Banks in Australia, South Korea, and Singapore are doing a lot more innovation than you see in US banks. The dichotomy is that the most innovative banks are in this time zone, but not the most innovative startups.”

If the startups are missing, interest is not.

The Financial Times recently reported that “Asia turns on the taps for tech investment.” Josh Noble wrote that Asian firms are investing directly in new tech firms “putting Hong Kong and Singapore firmly on the map for tech startups seeking cash.”

“A lot of institutions in this part of the world are very keen to be supporting entrepreneurs and SMEs,” said Accenture’s Saluja. “The Lab is a a very collaborative environment for fintech startups to get mentored.

Accenture’s FinTech Innovation Lab Launches In Asia – Forbes}

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