Driving Innovation: Q&A With Bank Of Montreal’s Chief Architect And Innovation Officer Lawrence Wan

Lawrence Wan, Bank of Montreal’s chief architect and Innovation officer, shares his thoughts regarding achieving innovation within the company using a team approach.

Lawrence Wan, Bank of Montreal Chief Architect and Innovation Officer

Global Finance: Which features should a successful innovation plan have?

Lawrence Wan: At Bank of Montreal (BMO), we focus on four areas: One, measure the levels and expectations for innovation and benchmark progress relative to other organizations. Two, establish an open innovation platform that brings ideas and solvers together; build an innovation community that allows the organization to openly connect and formulate innovative ideas and solutions. Three, build an ecosystem with critical partnerships and alliances across academics, niche companies and industry partners. The network is aimed at reducing blind spots and helping to drive and deliver innovation more effectively and efficiently. And four, develop a framework to scan, monitor and experiment with emerging technologies that can be disruptive from relevant business applications.

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

Wan: A hybrid model that combines the benefit of dedicated focus and is grounded in business values is likely the most effective approach. A small, enterprise innovation team can focus on driving the standard process and platform and communicating and promoting innovative activities across the organization that will inspire, connect and accelerates a culture of innovation. To be meaningful, invention must provide actual business values while still driving progress for a thriving economy, sustainable future and inclusive society. At BMO, we do this through our Digital First initiative, which focuses on delivering speed and scale to drive progress for our customers, unlock the power of our people and deliver loyalty, growth and efficiency.

GF: How have you changed your approach since starting your role?

Wan: Initially, BMO focused more on scanning and experimenting with emerging technologies with a supportive ecosystem. As we experienced early success, the bank expanded to focus on inspiring and accelerating a culture of innovation, working with the business lines and connecting innovative ideas and solutions to solve business problems. The goal is no longer just about staying current and reducing blind spots. Innovation is also essential for a sustainable competitive advantage and increased employee engagement.

GF: What are the most common pitfalls that innovative organizations should avoid?

Wan: First, innovation needs to be established as a core competency for an organization. To achieve that, an organization needs to develop a culture of innovation, which we have done here at BMO. Second, innovation does not just happen. Often an organization thinks that innovation will just happen as part of normal business activities. Instead, innovation needs to be inspired, aligned and facilitated. Third, hackathons are not the same as innovation. Teams often focus on an event like a hackathon as the proof point of being innovative. Hackathons alone are not sufficient; they’re theme specific, with limited participation, for a point-in-time focus. Another pitfall when pursuing innovation is insufficient leverage of the ecosystem. An organization cannot win by itself. A healthy ecosystem is essential, and leveraging properly, industry partnerships are beneficial and don’t hurt competitiveness.

GF: What has been the most important lesson you have learned?

Wan: A challenge of innovation is balancing in-year business priorities while fostering an open environment that encourages innovative ideas and solutions. There are many notions of what innovation is. Identifying the ideas that are priorities and creating alignment within the organization to deliver on those and drive progress is paramount. Working with the various digital and innovation teams in the business lines is a critical success factor.