How do you create innovation? Create a mash-up of Shark Tank, America's Got Talent and an Incubator Lab


Simon Letort – Chief Digital Officer & Head of Innovation, Societe Generale Americas

To accelerate innovation, you need a vision. To accelerate innovation within a bank, you need an innovative approach, a plan, a group of driven disruptors who are fans of Shark Tank, and an executive team that is ready to pay for great ideas to flourish.

To forge new ground, firms need to come up with their own innovative approach that not only incentivizes staff to come up with ideas, but changes the mindset of those in the organization.

This is not easy for a global institution like Societe Generale, which has almost 150,000 employees worldwide and 3,000 in the Americas. But we are not alone. Many global companies are faced with the same question: How do we encourage and leverage the immense talent of our employees to foster disruptive and winning ideas that benefit our customers and our company?

To do so at Societe Generale Americas, we have adopted a multi-level approach that welcomes, incentivizes and encourages entrepreneurialism.

This strategy is taking off with our bi-annual Americas Innovation Pitch Session. The regional "Shark Tank-esque" event features 10 teams crowdsourced from within the firm, who present their prototypes,  and business ideas to the Americas Executive Committee and all-staff. Everyone then votes for the best ideas, and the winners have the opportunity to receive funding to advance their projects.

In the recent Pitch Sessions for Societe Generale Americas, winning projects ranged from the monitoring and automation of daily tasks to scare resource optimization and data mining of public information.

For Societe Generale, Innovation is essential to the long-term dynamics and growth of the firm. Today, many firms in the financial services sector think of themselves as “technology firms” that happen to do banking, brokerage or market services. Making this happen requires a distinct mindshift, facilitated with a host of initiatives that dovetail with global organization goals. Part of the mindshift is getting professionals from one business line to work with unfamiliar staff in another business line. This is where the magic often occurs.

Let's Go To The Lab

Another key to accelerating innovation is to create hubs that bring creative ideas to reality.

Societe Generale has created Innovation Labs - physical spaces dedicated to creating new businesses within SocGen offices - in Paris, Dakar, Berlin, Luxembourg and London. SG Americas is set to open its innovation lab in the New York office in September. To complement the spaces, we have a prototyping lab in Montreal to quickly iterate ideas.

The broad plan for the global organization is to encourage new ideas that help us better serve our clients or provide new products and services. To help foster this entrepreneurial ambition, SG Americas grants employees 12 Innovation Days each year – paid days for all employees to work on new initiatives.

But ideas do not happen in a vacuum. The bank is working with a number of universities to help with projects. This win-win can help solve problems and create solutions, but also opens the gates to finding and attracting new talent. We also round out the experience by bringing in speakers from the fintech, venture capital and data science space to offer insights for the bank’s staff and its clients.

This multi-tiered approach feeds our intrapreneurship program, the Internal Startup Call, which develops our future products and services, including projects that go beyond traditional banking services.

Finding Innovation

Our goal is to create a virtuous cycle that serves our employees, customers and the broader Societe Generale organization for years to come. On a personal level, people feel empowered to develop new concepts, products and services with the firm’s support.

Beyond that, there are opportunities to work with other professionals at all levels of the Group, which also strengthens the network and cooperation among staff. This collaborative approach helps build new relationships stimulates even more ideas.

These things don’t happen overnight, but with steady support of management and word-of-mouth networking from staff, it will change the culture of the organization and the mindset of those who work within it.

Can we do it? Absolutely.

Some Rules For Innovation

  • Put the client experience at the center of what you do
  • Make it fun
  • Provide multiple support levels: pitch sessions, time to accelerate ideas, space to innovate and create
  • Reward great ideas and encourage everyone to join in
  • Reach out beyond your organization to universities, fintech and other financial services companies

Create diverse teams