Spanish bank La Caixa looks to startups for innovation

La Caixa is looking for ways to innovate in an increasingly competitive environment, and is turning to startups for new and niche technologies

Spanish bank La Caixa is turning to startups developing new and niche technologies for innovation ideas.

La Caixa works with large vendors, including IBM, Accenture and HP, but seeks innovation from small companies with specialised knowledge on technologies, such as applications on different mobile operating systems.

“We can’t ask the five big companies for that, because the knowledge in these areas changes every year, and it makes no sense for large companies to invest in changing technology,” says Benjami Puigdevall Esteve, head of electronic channels at La Caixa.

He said it’s unclear new technologies will be successful or not, which is why small companies become the experts. He said that for any new technology, companies have always looked to smaller companies.

“Ten years ago with, for example, business intelligence, we looked for knowledge from small companies,” he said. “That’s nothing new.”

La Caixa wants these technologies to be fast, flexible and agile. Esteve looks for innovation from small companies in areas such as apps, which can integrate with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and marketing campaigns on social networks.

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In fact, social networking is very important to La Caixa. Yesterday it won an award for being the global innovator at the Efma and Accenture distribution and marketing innovation in retail financial services awards. It demonstrated a number of its innovative services, including a multi-channel private banking solution called The Wall, and Recibox, an online multidevice service to enable customers to manage bills and direct debits.

Last year, the company held an event similar to a hackathon, The 24 hour FinAppsParty, to encourage innovation within financial services and application.

La Caixa hopes to replicate this style of event specifically for managing apps for social networks. Esteve said it would be beneficial to a bank if it could know what its customers like on Facebook. By knowing what groups and activities customers like, this could allow La Caixa to offer personalisation to the customer, such as a credit card package in the theme of the customer’s favourite football team.

La Caixa has seen success with its own social network, which connects its business clients together. Esteve said this is very valuable as La Caixa vets the profiles first, so companies know they are connecting with the right company.

The bank even has a social network for the elderly, which offers credit card packages and a loyalty programme. At the moment this particular social network has 30,000 members, with an average age of 72.

A concern for Esteve at the moment is the non-traditional banking players that are entering the market. Companies that have grown in the online sector are testing the waters in banking, and because they have no overheads, such as physical branches, they are proving to be a viable competitor in the market.

“We need to try and understand why these companies are successful, and learn from this,” he said.

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