Can a big bank offer you an innovative environment to work in if you’re a technology professional?
Nick Doddy, European & India Managing Director of the Innovation team within Deutsche Bank’s Chief Operating Office division, says that innovation is a core business principle at the bank.
“Banking has been an innovative sector technology-wise for a while,” says Doddy. “When I first started in the 1990s, I’d be in a high-tech office full of trading screens every day, so going to work felt like a huge leap forward compared with home.”
These days, innovative technology abounds in a number of sectors and consumers can access much of it at home or on the go. IT professionals have many more employment options now than 20 years ago.
Pragati Rai, who joined Doddy’s team from PayPal last year where she was Technology Evangelist for the company, relates her own experiences. “The people we hire increasingly have alternative options, but they say that working at Deutsche Bank gives them an opportunity to apply a whole new level of intelligence and innovation to the issues they encounter. With around 100,000 employees and operations worldwide, the scale and complexity of the IT and businesses here give you the opportunity to make a real impact as part of a global team”, she says.
Doddy also says that some IT candidates' perceptions need to be updated. “A few of them initially think that we’re still very ‘traditional’. This may have been the case in the past when banking IT was seen as more of a support function across the industry. Today, technology at Deutsche Bank is an equal partner to the business and a force for change and innovation across the whole organisation.”
Helping drive Deutsche’s innovative IT culture are purpose-built ‘innovation labs’ in Berlin, London and Silicon Valley. Fintech start-ups – along with the likes of venture capital firms, investors and academics – work in the labs to develop products that the bank could potentially use to improve its business. “We’re not just doing the innovation ourselves – in the labs we provide a platform for innovation, bringing together people to create solutions that wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago,” says Doddy.
He adds: “The labs let us respond more quickly to challenging problems and they connect our demand for new technology to the supply of innovative ideas, or the other way round. We can test, for example, three possible solutions – whether they’re via blockchain, the cloud, anything – from different start-ups. The labs give us a secure environment to experiment in, using agile practices.”
While each lab has a specialised team, a wide range of other Deutsche Bank employees – including technologists and specialists from elsewhere in the bank – are called in for stints when their expertise is needed. “People really enjoy the opportunity to work there, whether it’s for a long period or a short visit, and getting to share their ideas with other experts,” says Doddy.
Tech innovation at Deutsche Bank extends beyond the labs themselves. Last September in Berlin, for example, the firm hosted an app-design competition for staff and the two winning teams are now working full time to develop their apps further. Rai says: “We’re putting a lot of investment into this and it’s an effective way of tapping into our employees’ creativity and giving them credit for innovation”. Rai herself is based in Bangalore, and the innovation team has members in other key business locations, including Frankfurt and New York.
Senior managers from technology, the businesses and the labs also come together once a quarter at ‘innovation advisory forums’ to discuss progress on the key new IT innovations that Deutsche is pursuing. Doddy explains: “By inviting the core tech and businesses people, they then become advocates of innovation, which filters through to their teams and helps them prioritise what to work on.”
Deutsche Bank plans to hire IT professionals in certain areas over the next few years, says Doddy. Some of them will get the chance to work directly with the labs and all of them will need to show that they can work in an increasingly innovative workplace. “We encourage our IT employees not to accept the status quo but to use their creative ability and curiosity to innovate and find better ways of doing things.”
More specifically, Doddy believes that technology staff must be able to articulate their innovative ideas in a way that the businesses can readily understand. “Learn to talk innovation to a trader, not to another techie. This could help the bank make a decision between spending on a standard project, or investing in your innovation, which may or may not work out, but could potentially generate a far greater return.”