As I start wrapping up for Christmas and New Years break, I look back on 2020 and consider what an odd year this was professionally. Who would have guessed that all our plans would be put in a box, waiting for sunnier days?
Or have they?
The reality is that many people, after a few challenging months, have taken the box out, opened it, scrapped the old plans and replaced them with new ones. And this, for me, is what I want to remember of 2020: people’s ability to quickly reinvent themselves and their businesses. If you are going to remember one thing, remember this:
We can all be the innovator of the year; we only need to try
This year was indeed a challenging one, but it has also shown that anyone can be an innovator and that innovation is a “must” not a “good to have” in all sectors.
We started the year, with small independent businesses being impacted by local lockdowns. Many were owned by SMEs who had been working in the same industry for years and had low or no expertise in digital technologies and experiences.
However, when faced with adversity, some of those SMEs stepped up to the challenge. They were not afraid to test new business models some drastically changed to be fully digital, and some leveraged the power of partnerships.
On the other hand, in November this year, we learned about retail businesses who did not survive the crisis.
The reality is that those businesses had stagnated, they had no or a low digital footprint, and they did not transform their stores’ experience. As such, once the lockdown hit, customers turned to brands that had an excellent digital experience and that were leveraging “influencers” for their promotion and experiences.
Some may say that the leaders of those companies did not show the same ability to innovate, reinvent themselves and their businesses, before the crisis, and that was crucial to their survival.
Financial Services Sector
Now, if we look back at financial services, innovation was already underway in large and early adopter banks. But the crisis has brought innovation and change to the centre stage of banks of all sizes. As countries started to lockdown, many have put their employees and customers first.
As the months went on, there was an increasing concern for employees’ mental health and ensuring that they had the tools to do their work remotely. Some banks and managers went one step further, ensuring that employees took this time to re-skill and re-train themselves on new digital technologies and methodologies.
Now, if you have been to industry conferences this year, you would have noticed that the one key nut still to be cracked is the mindset. Again, the people side of innovation.
So, the challenge for 2021 will be how we change our mindset to be comfortable with continuously testing, failing, and innovating?
The mindset is vital, not only for internal innovation but also for partnerships with external parties. Having worked closely with FinTechs and external vendors this year, it is clear to me that SMEs from both sides will need to work together on understanding and developing each other’s mindsets and expectations.
Additionally, organisations will be faced with new challenges. How will they balance the hybrid model of remote-working and working-in-the-office? And how will they make sure that the new model and the crisis impact does not hinder further the small advancements previously made on creating a diverse workforce?
A McKinsey study, as of Nov 2020, points out that across geographies “Women are 1.5 times as likely as men to cite challenges pointing to a ‘double shift’: acute challenges with mental health and increased household responsibilities.”
All in all, 2021 will not be a walk in the park. Organisations will need to ensure that innovation is still at the top of their agenda and that their employees are supported throughout this challenging time.
This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organisations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated.
Rita Martins drives Innovation and FinTech Partnerships for Finance and Risk, at HSBC. See her personal blog here.