A chat about innovation & business with Boris Marte, Head of Erste Hub

The elevator opens for the third floor. We rush for our appointment and at the entrance, above the doorbell we read:


Poem: In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood with the right road lost

We are at Erste Hub – the innovation center of Erste Group – and eager to find out what is happening here. We want to learn from our TEDxVienna partners and Boris Marte, the Head of Erste Hub, join us in a conversation about business and innovation. 

Interview with Boris Marte, Head of Erste Hub

Why the quote of Dante Alighieri at the entrance?

Well, we are questioning a lot here and we are looking for new ways of building a business around an industry which has lost trust and its people orientation. We just lost the momentum in society to be there where the people are. To understand this we have to go very, very deep in our systems.

Why this innovation space? What is happening here at Erste Hub?

We have to work on new business models because the economics are shifting and we have to understand how to prepare ourselves for a new generation coming up, building up their lives in a completely different manner than before.

We are a mixed team of nonbanking and banking people and that’s a key element in our work. The first half – the non-bankers – have different backgrounds that previously didn’t link them to the banking industry so far except – the very important fact – that they are customers. So they are able to give an outside view and together with the ones coming from the industry we fix our picture of how banking is going to be in the future taking a 100% per cent customer view.

This is very important, because nowadays we tend to interpret the world through an inside view. So we are working as customers for customers and this means to change the perspective. We call it the Copernican turn, referring to the Copernican revolution. This paradigm shift made that many existing schools of explanation of why we are, why human beings are existing and so on, had to be thrown away “simply” because the earth is not in the centre of the universe, but the sun.

So do you know what the future will look like? 

We are sometimes more into understanding the problem than giving the answers. You really have to understand the problem before giving the answer. And understanding the problems of the people whom we serve is extremely important. It is very important to understand people not as customers, but as people, as humans, as individuals. To get a better grasp of what kind of life, society we´re living in, is extremely important to build a new business venture around it.

Is this the human part of business?

Yes, but not the human in the sense of social, but human in a deeper understanding of needs of customers who are people and not statistics. And I think there is a huge potential for a financial institution as we are, to be an elementary thing for organizing your individual life, to be much closer to the reality of the individual than we are today.

How do you do that? How are things happening here?

We have set up an ideation process – idea shooting sessions – and the ideas are presented in front of the full team and not individually to a manager. We have a very democratic way of bringing ideas into existence.

We also have a decision body that meets every second week for three hours including all the relevant people for the topics we are working on it. We have a different working methodology. For example there are no steering committees, because we are not here to steer processes, but to make them.

What is happening in the idea shooting sessions?

Everyone has the chance to present an idea and then everyone has a chance to decide if we take it further or not. This is open for everyone. So every second week we decide if an idea is put into a prototype. It is very committed and very high speed. We decide quickly. Our mission is to fail quickly. And cheap.

In this sense we are working more like a startup and not like a huge institution. So in the whole process of idea creation, prototyping, market launch, decision making – the main stakeholders are always sitting at this table. For example, the marketing guys who most of the time are involved at the end of the process, are sitting here when the idea is born. This is changing the whole process of the product creation.

For sure your mission is not easy. How did you create the strong team?

As I said, important for us was to look for the best brains outside of the bank, and to include them with the people from inside the bank. That was key. They are bringing a whole lot of new views, skills, atmosphere, a new picture what to them means a bank.

And the second important thing was to set the agenda independently. We have to approach the bank with our agenda. And then convince them to follow, to take decisions which are coming from a completely different source of relevance.

So this would be a recipe for developing a business?

Yes, it’s about getting out of it and taking a different perspective.

What is your biggest challenge here at Erste Hub?

The biggest challenge is that at the end of the day the things we do would boost our business concept. At the end of the day we also have to create additional revenue streams. But if we define the projects only to create revenue streams we will fail completely. Because you only can achieve additional revenue if you surprise and motivate the clients by added value, but value is not price as price comes after value. So what we have to create here is value and then price will come. If you are out for price without value it won’t work. This is a misunderstanding that many people have usually. The products are just out on the market with the hope that they will achieve a price tag at the end of the day.

We think the other way around. We have to create a great experience for our customers, we have to create a great value that they better understand why a bank is here for.  More literacy in collaborating with the bank will create more revenue. This is our big believe and I think we are on the right track.

We wish success in this adventure to everyone at Erste Hub and with all these thoughts about business we head to the exit. Then:



Header Image(s) from Pixabay & Gratisography

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