Monday, 18 October 2021

BNY Mellon’s Brown: “We force our teams to think we need collaboration”

5 min read

By Richard Hartung

Hans Brown, head of client technology solutions - Asia Pacific, BNY Mellon, talks about the bank’s approach on innovation and how its newest Singapore lab helps solve real institutional problems

  • BNY Mellon uses design thinking as a way of changing the way it approaches problems
  • Hans Brown shared that the problems at the bank are for institutional clients and are more about removal of friction.
  • Brown believes that “tech is just a tool” and is important for people to understand how to use it

The approach to innovation that BNY Mellon uses at its lab in Singapore, the eighth lab the bank has set up globally, is consists of the five stages of design thinking: empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test. “We use design thinking as a way of changing the way we approach problems,” said Hans Brown, head of client technology solutions - Asia Pacific, BNY Mellon. “We force the teams to think we need collaboration. That’s the cultural transformation we’re trying to get with the organisation.”

A key emphasis in the lab is getting people to identify the real problem they need to solve. Most of the time, he observed, people come up a solution without thinking about the fundamental problem. “We use the space to force people to think differently. This is where we think, ‘what are we going to solve’.” What’s essential, then, is defining the problem and having a problem statement.

To identify those problems, BNY Mellon goes beyond just leveraging technology or asking staff in the lab and brings in staff from the line of business and from clients. “Next week we have a client with a big team coming in,” Brown said by way of example, “then two weeks later another one.”

What’s also critical, Brown said, is asking “why?” Teams coming through ask “why?” People of this centre ask “why?”

To resolve bottlenecks as they work on solving problems, each team has a “stand-up” debriefing every morning and then puts sticky-notes on an “impediment wall” to explain what’s stopping them from being more productive and who can solve it. Brown and other staff know to check the wall every day, pick up problems assigned to them, and fix them. “After each morning stand-up I come up and pick the ones with my name. I get the impediment removed. If it’s not assigned to somebody here (in the lab), it’s sent to the right person.”

Solving problems

The lab is, indeed, focused on solving real problems. And compared to a retail bank that generates products for the mass market, Brown said, the problems at BNY Mellon are for institutional clients and are more about removal of friction.

One example is client onboarding. The real issue, Brown observed, is not onboarding. It is on how a new client can execute a trade better. “I have to do onboarding to execute a trade. If I reduce points of friction in onboarding, I make a trade faster.” The problem, then, is not onboarding – it is executing trades faster.

As another example, a team used one of the bank’s 36-hour hackathons to develop a chatbot as an interface between clients and software. “Clients can ask where their trades are by asking a chatbot rather than searching for the information. The bot will respond, so you don’t need to ask another team to do the job for you. It will give you the list. You can execute an action.”

Designing the space right

The lab itself looks like a co-working space, albeit an upscale one. ‘We spent ages designing the space,” Brown said. “We’ve used the space to change how everybody thinks. Every piece of furniture is designed to encourage collaboration and thinking about solutions.”

The space is also very visual, with special paint on every wall that staff can draw on. “I’m replacing pens the most,” Brown said. “People are collaborating more. It’s easier to collaborate if I have a white wall to show what I mean. If I have to draw out what I think, it moves you.”

The mantra, he said, is “show me what you mean. We force them to draw the solution. People are used to writing it out. We say, draw it. You’re making them think differently.”

Cultural change – Getting staff to think differently

Brown is also working a lot on getting the bank’s staff to think differently.  

“We have people who have been here a long time,” he acknowledged. “They’re the most important people to get to think differently. They’re the institutional memory. Immersing the people within the space does generate a turnaround. The idea is, I want people here to be more productive.” The key, he said, is getting people to use design thinking and behave differently.

And even though he’s head of technology, Brown believes that “tech is just a tool.” What’s most important, he said, is getting people to understand that it’s how you use it. “Getting people to act, to look at problems differently, that’s the outcome. That’s what the innovation centre should be about. Tech is secondary.”

Measuring results

“If you can’t measure it,” Brown said, it didn’t happen.” The metrics for innovation, though, are different than for the rest of the business. What he measures, Brown said, includes the number of proofs of concepts, the number of prototypes, the number that become products, the number of failures, the number of outputs per developer, and feedback from clients. “We publish metrics.” 

Keywords: BNY Mellon, Technology, Design Thinking, Innovation Lab
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