Royal Bank of Canada arguably leads its market in technology innovation, having been first with Mondex phone payments in the 1980s, then introduced chip and pin, contactless, and peer payments before the label fintech was ever coined.
“Customers don’t demand tech as much as experiences.”
“They want to manage their money better,” explained Linda Mantia, EVP Digital, Payments & Cards at RBC, “which means getting more while spending less time, effort, and worry. Tech is a topic because it lets us deliver on these customer-centric truths.”
Mantia tells an illustrative story from when she took on her current role in July 2012:
“We were three months away from launching a new SIM product that required users to spend 20-30 minutes configuring it with credit card info that would need to be updated if the card changed. I told the team I wouldn’t use it, and asked if they had any better ideas. Their answer was immediate: Put it in the cloud, which meant we could not only simplify use, but stay flexible to voice, barcode, retina, or other device interfaces.”
The company subsequently nixed the product, but used its insights as the aegis for its Secure Cloud, introduced in early January, 2014, which supports payments in the RBC mobile app across a variety of Android handsets.
“No matter how the tech evolves, we decided to make sure we’d be the first partner someone calls,” Mantia added.
That doesn’t mean RBC isn’t deeply engaged in the latest fintech experiments; it has teams focused on R&D and payment innovation, and regularly participates in conferences to stay close to industry developments.
But its innovation strategy is driven by the ways such tech can build on those truths of customer experience or, as they’re called inside the company, first principles.
“We don’t innovate for the sake of innovation, but we will do what will address our customers’ needs and build their loyalty.”
“That means we’ll build proprietary solutions, embed our services in others, or simply participate in open networks, depending on what’s right,” said Mantia.
The idea that principles can go deeper than a marketing campaign was evidenced when Canadian banks remained all but untouched by the economic collapse late last decade. Consumer distrust of US financial institutions has yet to recover.
“Canada is different, and within Canada RBC is different,” Mantia explained. “We work hard to ensure RBC customers aren’t suspicious of our motives because we apply our principles to everything we do, whether innovation or daily operations. For instance, it means we don’t operate our cards’ reward program as a profit center; instead, we have designed it to ensure client use all their points. We want them to engage with us and use their points for what matters to them.”
Its first principles approach also yields tech innovation opportunities.
While much of fintech innovation is driven by the US, the country isn’t seen as a world leader in security, so RBC’s Secure Cloud presents opportunities for its partners to utilize that tech more safely, while giving its customers an extra layer of confidence when they use it.
“We believe the role of a bank is to enable people to do what they want to do with their money,” Mantia said.
“The tech will always change, but our principles won’t.”