During her interview with Clare Calmejane, Director of Innovation, two years ago Sophie Bialaszewski saw the opportunities before her very clearly.
“Supporting the cultural change of one of the largest banks in the UK and enabling innovation at scale across the Group was not a journey I wanted to miss.”
Sophie’s background equipped her, not just to go on the journey, but to lead it. She was part of a cyber-security start-up, she led strategic communications & corporate affairs at the Post Office and previously ran the education and digital programmes at IBM.
Even against a background of rewarding, stimulating work like that, financial services, and Lloyds Banking Group in particular, had a pull of their own.
“We all need financial services; no matter what our background, at some point in our life we will need to save, borrow or lend money to live the life we want. That’s why I wanted to move into financial services and specifically why I wanted to work for Lloyds Banking Group which has over 11 million customers online, including over six million mobile customers and a digital transformation strategy which is investing £1bn over three years. The scope to make a difference is huge and I wanted to work for another iconic brand; Lloyds Bank is 11 years older than the United States.
“It’s also an incredibly exciting time to be in financial services in London, the FinTech capital of the world. FinTech is one the of the biggest growth areas for the UK, generating £20bn of GDP and employing 135,000 people* I am delighted to be part of the UK’s FinTech movement and what is possible through collaboration at this moment in time.
“Just as FinTech is breaking new ground all the time, so are the job titles surrounding it.”
Sophie is Head of Innovation Culture and Events with a remit that also covers FinTech Collaboration. Quite a mouthful, but then it’s a big remit.
“My role is to curate an innovation movement that inspires and engages colleagues to think differently. We’re trailblazing new events and initiatives to foster ‘intrapreneurship’ which includes Innovation Jams, Digital Espresso Martini sessions (meet-ups), open innovation challenges and mentor matching programmes.
“We’ve developed 14 FinTech collaborations, including three Global accelerator programmes, which are helping us to test news ideas and connect colleagues to the FinTech world. Creating the pathways and tools that allow our colleagues to innovate themselves has been fantastic and we’ve had hundreds of new ideas put forward for how we can innovate for our customers.
“The sheer scale of Lloyds Banking Group – more than 80,000 people – can make reaching all our colleagues a real challenge. But equally, this huge scale means the potential is phenomenal.
“If we enable our colleagues to innovate on a daily basis and inspire them to think differently it will be a powerful movement within the Group for change and empowerment.”
And happily for Sophie and her team there is a real appetite for digital innovation.
“In terms of our innovation culture we are continually pushing the boundaries, trialing new events and activities like our new hac-kit (think hackathon in a box). The great thing is that colleagues across the Group want to get involved no matter which area of the business they work in – we are helping them to bring their ideas to life.
“The potential is there for digital innovation to transform financial services, and that in turn will affect millions of lives for the better.
“Technology has changed the way we all live and work. Financial Services are vital for all of us. Bringing the two together is magical and has the potential to make financial exclusion something of the past.”
The next year or so will see FinTech marching further forwards. So what does Sophie predict for 2016?
“We will see the continued investment in payments and lending, the practical application of blockchain technology, the rise of robo-advice and a new emphasis on Insurance Technology (InsurTech) as another sector has a tech awakening. I’m excited for 2016 because we are founding partners of the new Startupbootcamp InsurTech Accelerator and I am looking forward to seeing the start-ups grow over the next three months.”
The future for FinTech looks exciting, with Lloyds Banking Group set to play a role in fostering financial and digital inclusion on a national level, but Sophie’s commitment to digital doesn’t begin and end with her work there.
“I often sit in external events, seminars and round tables where I am the only woman at the table; it still surprises and disappoints me. A recent report (MSCI Index, 2015) showed that companies with strong female leadership deliver a 36% higher return on equity and yet the WEF’s Gender Gap Report (2015) showed that women’s pay has only just begun to equal the amount men were earning 10 years ago.
“It’s also true that men are 86% more likely to be venture capital funded than women and on average launch firms with twice the capital of their female counterparts. I am proud that we are sponsoring the new Fin4Fem course from 8th March to help female entrepreneurs secure funding.
“We must do more to unleash the passion, intellect and drive of women in Financial Services. If we do so, the sector, our colleagues and our customers will benefit. Importantly, young women will have the chance to be part of this exciting FinTech ecosystem in the UK and globally. This is why I think things like Digital Breakthrough in Lloyds Banking Group is important and why I am a keen Digital Champion as part of Go ON UK. Finally, the work that Sam Maule is achieving with the FemTech leaders campaign is helping inspire and attract young women to the sector and why we hosted the London event in the Atrium at Chiswell Street.”
Digital Breakthrough is a way for women in Group Digital to connect, collaborate and achieve. It’s a great scheme that Maxine Austin within LBG Innovation Labs has been instrumental in getting started. I am proud to be part of this network and thank colleagues like Maxine, Claire Calmejane and Leigh Smyth for making it happen.
* Innovate Finance Manifesto, 2020 Vision.