How to test new business ideas within a bank

Innovating and experimenting within a large corporation: if that sounds like a mission impossible to you, then I have some good news. It’s a challenge, but it’s definitely possible. In this blog, you'll learn how to test new business ideas within a bank. I'll share the challenges I faced within my first 1.5 years working within the bank, and how to overcome them.

As someone who likes to stimulate her never-ending curiosity, I find experimentation a great tool to constantly learn something new. During my Biomedical Sciences studies, I was constantly testing hypotheses in the lab to discover how the human body functions. Later on, as a trainee in growth marketing, I discovered the power of data-driven experimentation in a rapidly changing business environment. And guess what? That’s exactly my current role as Experiment Lead at Rabobank!

The search for new revenue models

Together with other like-minded experimenters, I work at Rabobank’s innovation department: the Innovation Factory. Our department acts like an internal agency. We help the business to validate and test new ideas as quickly as possible. The goal is to find new revenue models for the bank. How?

An example: a proposition I’m especially proud of, is FoodBytes! Digital. It’s a digital platform that connects startups and corporations in the food & agricultural sector. To avoid building a digital platform that nobody wants to use, we first launched a landing page to test the interest. That resulted in a group of enthusiastic investors and corporates that were looking for startups in several industries. Once the sign-ups started flowing in, it was time for a concierge test. This technique is used to discover how the solution should be designed, by offering the envisioned service to your customers manually. So we did.

My team and I spent hours googling to make a list of potentially interesting startups. The participants received the results in a well-designed .pdf report. Indeed, not very scalable, but great for learning – and that was exactly the goal here. We learned more about the right persona, their goals (“jobs-to-be-done”) and how they would like to search for startups. These insights helped us to improve the idea without just building what we assumed in the first place. Right now, we’re validating our assumed revenue model. We already converted the first users to a paid account, so this proposition definitely has potential.

This illustration shows how to test new business ideas and shows a woman experimenting in a lab and on a computer, which leads to innovation.
Illustration by Tess Poot.

The contrast between corporations and startups

Is innovation more difficult at a corporation than at a startup? It probably won’t surprise you, but there are indeed some challenges. For example: the bank is organized to be aware of – and strictly manage – all risks. That can be challenging for the innovators, because innovation is all about daring to take risks. The solution? We’ve appointed colleagues to act as a bridge between the Compliance, Legal & Risk departments and the innovation teams. They set certain boundaries. For example, we’re allowed to experiment with offering a new service as long as it won’t get more than X-number of participants or customers. This way, we take a calculated risk, so the innovation teams can focus on the experiments instead of on compliance processes.

No code? No problem!

Another challenge is validating at low-cost. Rabobank has more financial resources compared to a startup, but that doesn’t mean you always need to use them. Because why would you spend a lot of money to test something – only to find out that nobody wants it – if you can do the same thing for less money? A big budget could result in a pitfall of making projects unnecessarily large. You might end up building a digital solution with all sorts of great features, when you could have used a much simpler experiment to test if it’s a good idea – like the mentioned .pdf report. However, sometimes the uncertainty of a new business idea lies in whether the target audience will actually use a digital solution. In that case, a simple .pdf report won’t be sufficient. So how can you test such an idea cheaply, without spending a lot of money building a native mobile app?

Nowadays, there are a lot of software development tools which you can use to build an application very fast and without writing any line of code – also known as the ‘no-code movement’. Every week some great new tool pops up that makes it even easier to publish your app into the App Store or Play Store in just a few days. My biggest challenge? Getting everyone on board to use these specific tools. Things unfortunately just move slower at a big company with a lot of stakeholders.

Advantages of corporate innovation

Of course, corporate innovation doesn’t just involve challenges. It also has some clear benefits. One of the main benefits is that there are plenty of resources available. That gives us the room we need to experiment. Also, it enables us to hire the right people, e.g. former entrepreneurs and/or former startup employees. They experienced the search for new business models before and therefore understand the process of iterating to a product that fits the market. Another plus is that Rabobank is an established name. When we want to launch a new app, there’s a good chance that we can reach a lot of people via our channels and that they’ll consider the app to be reliable. That’s our ‘unfair advantage’.

Practice what you preach

Experimentation plays a big role in my personal life as well. For example, by using such a no-code tool, I built my own puzzle swap website: I came up with the idea because I thought it was such a waste to see all my completed puzzles collecting dust in a closet. At first, the website had a manual back-end: I had to connect the puzzlers together myself. When I noticed that more and more puzzles were being added – even without any kind of marketing ­– I invested more time in the website and automated the back-end step-by-step.

My new side project is the development of a clothing swap app. Around 90% of the clothes in my closet are second-hand. I also regularly exchange them with my friends, so we’ve created a WhatsApp group for this need (our ‘duct tape solution’). The only problem with that is we often forget who has which item. My new clothing swap app should solve that problem.

These two side projects contribute – in a small way – to my personal mission: solving the problem of overconsumption because we already have so much stuff in the world. This mission drives me to innovate and build new digital products, both personally and professionally. I believe it’s essential for success to have such a mission – the “why” – for your new business idea. Innovation is not easy but if you ask me, the formula for success is: to take small steps and experiment to test your assumptions, while keeping an eye on your higher goal.

Curious to learn more on my role and how we innovate within the bank? Connect with me on LinkedIn – happy to chat!

About the author

Robin Jasperse
Experiment Lead

Robin Jasperse is Experiment Lead at Rabobank’s innovation department. After her studies in Biomedical Sciences and her Master Research in Sexology, she decided to switch to the world of Lean Startup and Digital Product Research. Combining both quantitative and qualitative research methods in a digital business environment is what excites her. Besides that, Robin firmly believes in validating assumptions of the business model design first, before you start optimizing.

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