Mindset Matters

A talk with Sadia Halim, global head of Digital Innovation and Transformation, Financial Institutional Clients, at BNP Paribas.

Global Finance: What is your mandate?

Sadia Halim: My mandate encompasses three pillars: enhancing relationships with existing clients; strengthening connectivity with the fintech ecosystem as clients and partners; and raising awareness on innovative topics for our team globally, by engaging our FIC [financial institutional client] bankers, and contributing to idea generation.

GF: What are the features of a successful innovation plan?

Halim: Collaboration and connectivity are keys to success. The business experts and the technical experts must communicate clearly and work together from the beginning, when the idea is originated. Also, stakeholders throughout the organization—such as legal, compliance, regulatory, procurement, IT and others—should be given the opportunity to provide feedback throughout development, so constraints can be addressed early. Lastly, it is critical to establish strong senior sponsorship to help validate the need for the solutions being created.

GF: Is it better to have a dedicated innovation team or work with representatives across the business lines?

Halim: I am a strong proponent of a multipronged approach in which innovation teams work with business-line representatives; the subject-matter expertise is essential. The business representatives know the products and the clients, while the innovation teams can help them challenge the status quo. Innovation teams also tend to have color on successful and failed initiatives from around the globe as well as best practices.

GF: Does your team “move fast and break things”?

Halim: We like to take a paced approach. The speed and number of things broken along the way has an impact on likelihood of success. To be able to integrate a new solution or put a product into production successfully will require the team to do much of the heavy lifting early in the process and without taking shortcuts.

We have found that if we take the time upfront to address concerns methodically, it may take longer, but a project’s feasibility increases dramatically. For large regulated institutions, there are many factors that need to be addressed before an idea can come to fruition. We have realized that moving faster doesn’t necessarily result in greater success; in fact it can often be a setback­—if key elements necessary for production have been overlooked due to haste, for example.

GF: How do you choose which proofs-of-concept to pilot?

Halim: The key is to clearly define success criteria, which are decided upon in collaboration with the business, the technology teams and the end users. It is important to adhere to a specified time frame and instill discipline around the evaluation process. If the PoC met its success criteria but exposed weaknesses, it may be more sensible not to proceed to a pilot. Although the PoC tells us whether a product can be developed, the pilot gives us clarity on whether clients will actually use it.

GF: What are the most common innovation pitfalls?

Halim: One is underestimating the importance of mindset, marketing and socialization of new ideas. Often an effective new tool is developed, but people are unaware of its existence, so it doesn’t get incorporated into a workstream. Even if you make the right investments and successfully deploy the most innovative technologies to enhance performance, the folks at the institution must utilize the tools. This can be addressed by teams dedicated to education. Soliciting feedback from a test group early in the process is also critical.

Another common misstep is focusing on a specific technology rather than the most appropriate solution. Time and time again, people will try to identify a problem for a technology, as opposed to evaluating multiple solutions that may be applicable for a particular pain point or process.