There’s a lot to be said about innovation in banking these days, but a couple of key questions need to be asked: what purpose does innovation serve, and who benefits from it? These questions may seem superfluous; however, answering them is critical for banks because the responses direct their actions and let the outside world know what and for whom they stand.
We sat down with Bastiaan Walenkamp and Bas de Jong, both of whom work in the innovation department at de Volksbank (ASN Bank, BLG Wonen, RegioBank and SNS), to clue us in on their particular take on innovation and why their new beta-app, Sl!m (Smart), which was released August 27th, is a game-changer.
De Volksbank has met innovation’s “why” question with a refreshing link to their core values of serving people and planet in the form of Sl!m. The app was created to foster more innovation regarding financial resilience and sustainability in a scalable way, giving consumers a host of features to help them save and even spend money wisely. The first of these innovations being tested amongst consumers is Mijn Budget,or “My Budget”, which automatically calculates a monthly available budget.
In terms of new technological trends like facial recognition and similar innovations, Walenkamp says the following: “We believe it’s important to offer these solutions, but we won’t be the first to implement them.” The bank’s priorities lie in using technology to support its core value of creating social impact. For example, the bank conducted behavioral research on people that were on the verge of going into debt. This research showed this group of people had trouble budgeting their expenses. If people could better understand how they spend by seeing how much they had available to spend, the logic was
that they could take the needed measures to avoid overspending. This was the thought process behind creating the Sl!m app in general, and in particular developing the Mijn Budget feature.
The Mijn Budget feature, which is the first function available on the app, predicts expected income and expenses such as mortgages, insurance payments, and subscriptions, and uses these to calculate a remaining budget for the current period. Since it calculates budgets based on when customers get paid, “it is in line with how people do their own mental calculus of how much they can spend during any given month,” Walenkamp notes.
The Sl!m app: a faster way to test social impact innovation
The core of the Sl!m app is testing de Volksbank’s socially-driven innovations in a data-driven way. As a part of the app, the bank can continually test new functionalities with real users, giving de Volksbank the critical insight into creating an app with functionalities that are useful to their customers, having social impact. Sl!m has the same layout as the regular banking apps for SNS, ASN, and RegioBank, and can be downloaded and logged into using customers’ current details.
Walenkamp notes that while the bank doesn’t have all the answers to creating solutions that work for people, Sl!m is an effective way to test their ideas and those of innovative start-ups, who are invited to share their solutions in the béta app. In Sl!m “we’ll add new functions regularly”, de Jong says, explaining the purpose of the app is to gauge what works best for customers.
The next function tested will be a Bespaar Coach, or “Savings Coach”. This gives customers more cost-effective options for items like energy and music subscriptions. In terms of the former, options suggested are line with the bank’s sustainable approach, thus showing energy options that are both cost efficient and have less environmental impact.
The bank will add the features that work for customers to their current banking apps, which gives it an easy way to scale functionality and innovation that could have impact on many peoples’ lives.
Innovation with a human touch
“A béta-app for banking is not done before like this at this scale,” Walenkamp says, noting the added value of an app that has both financial resilience and sustainability at its heart at the fingertips of its customers. This technology-fuelled assistance gives banking, according to Walenkamp and de Jong, a human touch because it empowers people with the tools to have more control over their finances.
By Elliot Lyons, Research Analyst