“Our only security is our ability to change.” — John Lilly
You are on the way to vacation and stop by your office on a Sunday morning to pick up the mail before you head to the airport. You discover a check has been mailed to you that you now remember must be deposited immediately to your checking account to avoid being overdrawn while out of town.
Ten years ago, you would have been in deep trouble. But now you can pull out your smart phone, take a picture of the check, and deposit it electronically. That means you’re free to drink margaritas worry free.
Who made that possible? Brookfield-based Fiserv Inc. is a leader in providing this enabling technology to the banking industry.
Today, the banking industry is in the middle of a major transformation in which customers want unprecedented access to financial services with speed and convenience 24/7, whenever and wherever they want it. Likewise, credit card companies such as MasterCard and Visa now must offer mobile applications. Even Apple has entered this market with Apple Pay, claiming it is more secure than swiping a plastic card.
Today, consumers also expect access to their bank accounts without worrying about breaches of confidentiality. This is a tall order, especially when it comes to their money.
Fiserv provides the back room infrastructure to make electronic banking happen. Its client accounts are sacred. Fiserv helps financial institutions manage cyber threats while delivering a seamless customer experience, from their cell phones to their laptops.
The person leading the charge at Fiserv is CEO Jeff Yabuki, who joined the company in late 2005. He came from outside the industry, working previously at H&R Block and American Express, and early in his career was a CPA.
How does he make it all happen?
Yabuki did not graduate from a prestigious business school such as Harvard’s B-school, and he’s from working-class parents. Jeff insists he’s not a natural born genius of the Steve Jobs ilk.
He’s done it by creating a culture obsessed with innovating and taking calculated risks for its clients’ benefit.
Here are some basic takeaways that we can all learn from his management practices, which can help us compete in a world where technological changes of breathtaking proportion occur on a daily basis.
- Look for problems. What are the threats to your industry? Are there any common themes? Real leaders do not pretend they know the answers. Instead, they reach out to employees to help create a questioning environment. Jeff quips: “We know what we know but we don’t know what we don’t know.” That honesty encourages everyone to be humble enough to explore the multiple options and solutions necessary to solve problems.Invest in people. This may seem counterintuitive from the CEO who drives innovative technology on a daily basis. But innovation comes from people, and that represents a huge part of Fiserv’s investment for the future.
- Make the tough decisions about existing business lines. We all fall in love with what has worked in the past, but that’s no guarantee the world will remain that way. If you do not cannibalize your own sacred cows, your competition will.
- Innovation has to become a way of life. Each and every innovation must address a client need. Fiserv tests its ideas relentlessly with its banking and card customers, and is willing to take the risk of failure when things don’t work out.
- Dedicate serious capital to the future. For Fiserv, that translates into creating and holding more than 170 patents. Patent creation represents a huge R&D investment. But this investment actually reduces risks, rather than increasing risks.
- Understand that when your customers win, you win. Fiserv helps customers identify new revenue opportunities, rather than just viewing them as targets for sales.
Whether you’re a small manufacturing plant, a restaurant or even a beauty salon, you too can apply some of these basic concepts in your business.
There’s also an important benefit consistent with our basic nature as human beings. Most of us love to be creative.
Creating a culture that values innovation and rewards creativity to help clients excel is, at the end of the day, both rewarding and a lot of fun.
Dan Steininger is president of Milwaukee-based BizStarts; a lecturer on innovation tools at the UWM School of Continuing Education; and president of Steininger & Associates LLC. He can be reached at Dan@BizStartsMilwaukee.com