Dreams as a source of innovation
The motto for Ergon’s 2019 “Beer, Bytes & Beats” summer party was “A connected world: working together to boost value creation”. In the presentations, several heavyweights from Swiss business explored how cooperation and collaboration are changing in the age of digitalisation. Marianne Wildi, the CEO of Hypothekarbank Lenzburg, speaks about disrupting the sector, fighting for her dreams, and how her bank might look in 300 years.
Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited. This is a notion that would probably appeal to CEO Marianne Wildi, as she describes herself as a dreamer. “For me, having a dream means facing the future with confidence and engaging with it. Innovation ensues when you fight for your dreams, and I count myself fortunate to head up a company that allows me to do that.”
Both a bank and a software company
Over the last decade, she and her team have been actively imagining what Hypothekarbank Lenzburg’s long-term future might look like. Will retail banking we know it continue to flourish, or will it wither on the vine over the next five to ten years? How can you awaken customers’ interest in modern digital products and yet make sure that humanity and emotion are not left out of the equation? And what effects will all this have on hierarchies and management culture?
This 150-year-old regional bank identified the disruptive tendencies inherent in digitalisation early on by observing other sectors that had already undergone this transformation (because of 3D printing, the big data revolution, or outsourcing to China, for example). They quickly realised that they wanted to plough their own furrow, complementing traditional banking with cutting-edge technologies in order to secure a long-term market advantage and diversify their business model. The bank’s network of local branches was thus augmented with digital advisory services and their proprietary software (known as Finstar) was also brought up to date and is now also sold to third parties.
“In future, there will be much closer cooperation between financial institutions and other sectors across the borders of their ecosystems.”
People as a key component
Despite all this digital euphoria, they had absolutely no intention of becoming a purely digital bank, as the human touch is essential for a company with local roots. Personal contact with customers engenders emotions and impressions that digital customer surveys can never hope to capture. The return on investment of such experiences is invaluable – not least for customers viewed as partners for the long-term future – but such a visionary approach can sometimes be a difficult sell (both to customers and in-house).
“You try convincing the head of finance to tailor the budget more dynamically over the long term rather than just renewing the same old playbook for another two years on the nod. Having a thick skin is handy, obviously, but a bit of room for manoeuvre and an intact ecosystem are much more important. The key to the future lies in robust cooperation with partners who are on the same wavelength, with people who share our dreams – like we have with Ergon, with whom we have been working very successfully for many years.”
You can get it if you really want it
Marianne Wildi confidently predicts that Hypothekarbank Lenzburg will still be around in 300 years, perhaps “in some altered incarnation – some kind of agile artificial intelligence, hurtling through space,” she says with a grin. “I am convinced that, by then, there will be much closer cooperation between financial institutions and many other sectors across the borders of their ecosystems. The added value will be beyond our wildest dreams for everyone involved – and it’s worth fighting for that right now.”
Marianne Wildi on the importance of sustainable partnerships, and how her firm has managed to become Switzerland’s most digital bank.