In the 12th episode of SME Banking Club Podcast Series, we speak with Konrad Radzik (Alior Bank) about the cooperation of banks and startups on their way of digital transformation.

Olena Gryniuk: Hello! We are starting a new season of SME Banking Club Podcast Series.  My name is Olena Gryniuk, and today I’m in Warsaw meeting Konrad Radzik, coordinating 2d edition of RBL_START, which is an Accelerator launched by Alior Bank in Poland last autumn.

Hello Konrad. I’m very glad to have you today.

Konrad Radzik: Hi Olena, thank you for the invitation.

OG: How do you call yourself: RBL or REBEL?

KR: Definitely REBEL! Rebel is a brand created by Alior Bank to name all innovative projects, and RBL_START is one of the initiatives branded by RBL_. RBL_ is connected with the Digital Disruptor Strategy of Alior Bank, and we try to find the best projects to support our strategy.

OG: You started your first Accelerator program last September. And this year in March you launched already the 2d edition of it.  Before that, you were partnering other Accelerator programs in Poland. So, my first question was what the main reason and target of launching Bank’s own Accelerator?

KR: Yes, we have quite long experience in cooperation with startups, so launching our own acceleration program was just a natural step. Own accelerator has a good value which is independence: we can decide what kind of challenges we have, how many startups we can invite, what kind of startups, how the program looks like. When we created the program, we thought about our processes, about our structure in the organization, so it’s strongly connected with our processes. Our program can help us implement the solutions more effectively, and in cooperation with our business units.

OG: What were the challenges and what are the lessons learned during the first edition?

KR: The 1st edition was one big challenge for us! We had to build the whole accelerator from the beginning, and we didn’t have so much time. And at the same time, we were launching our new RBL_ brand that I mentioned, and we were opening our RBL_Space in Warsaw Spire at the same time – and this is the location of Accelerator Program. I remember when we visited our space just a few days before the launch, and we were terrified, because we saw that almost nothing was ready… But we made it in time!

Also, we call the 1st Edition as our MVP of the Program. We had a lot of lessons learned. We met with our startups and mentors after the Program, and we received some feedback that we want to use in the next edition. First of all, our accelerator is strongly focused on implementations and partnerships. So, we decided to extend our program; now the 2d Edition will take up to 5 months. We resigned from some workshops which were not so useful for startups. The whole Program is designed according to our model of implementing innovations, so we cooperate with startups in the same way as in other projects. We’ve made some improvements in communications, but not only. So, I hope that this edition of our Accelerator will be better.

During the visit to RBL_Space within the framework of SME Study Tour to Poland on April 10-11, 2019.

OG: During your 1st Edition, you selected 8 startups to the Program. How do you cooperate with them now? And you also have RBL_VC team in your structure, so Bank is ready to invest in the startups? What are the criteria for that?

KR: Yes, as I mentioned the 1st Edition was MVP of the Program, so we have some lessons learned. We had only three months, and these three months were not enough to make some pilots with startups from the first edition during the Program. So, we are still talking to them; we are still working with them. I hope soon you’ll be able to hear about some pilots; I think in April or May it will be publicly known. We also invested in one of the startups, called PayPo. Our RBL_VC team invested 4 mln zlotys for 20% of shares. And going to the second part of the question, RBL_VC team is responsible for investing in most interesting startups. They mainly invest in FinTechs, InsurTechs, and RegTechs, these areas are strongly connected with banking and financial world. We are looking for the solutions that we can potentially implement in our bank or PZU (Powszechny Zaklad Ubezpieczen, the largest insurance provider in Poland), but also, we want to reach new groups of customers, so these kinds of solutions are also interesting for our Investment team. They mainly focus on the CEE region. But if there will be an interesting startup outside of that area, we’re also interested in that kind of solutions.

Łukasz Mańkowski and Małgorzata Filipowska (RBL_VC team)

OG: Do you want the startups you cooperate with after the Accelerator Program, do you want them to be an exclusive partner for you? Or you’re OK if they collaborate with other banks as well?

KR: In most cases, we don’t expect exclusivity, because we believe that working with other banks helps startups to grow and improve their solutions. For us it’s very important as we don’t want to implement solutions which will be not continuously developed and, in a few years, will become outdated. We are aware that other partners can give added value for these solutions, so mainly we don’t expect exclusivity, and a great example for that is we invited other banks for our Demo Day to show startups and help them gain new partners. However, for some special cases sometimes it can have added value for us, and we can negotiate the exclusivity with some startups, for example, for some period. But for sure it has to be accepted by the startup, and it can be a blocker for startup’s development. So, RBL_VC team is interested in the solutions on a more major stage, so a startup should have first clients to validate their solutions on the market.

OG: Now during the 2d Edition: started in March and ends in November, right? Who are you searching for and how many startups applied already? Tell us more about that.

KR: In this Edition, we are looking for startups to start cooperation with Alior Bank or PZU, so we are looking for FinTechs and InsurTechs. As we are focused on implementations, we invited to the Program startups on the early stage, but also, it’s good for major startups, having their first clients. We have four challenges, four areas that we are interested in this edition. It’s already on our website (https://www.accelerator.aliorbank.pl/), so startups can browse it.

One of the challenges is Data Analytics. We are looking for solutions that can provide us a new data about customers, for example, using PSD2 or Social Media or mobile phones. We are also looking for startups that can help us to analyze and use these data, for example, in customer scoring or preparing personalized offers or predict behaviors of our customers to improve our products. We’re also looking for the solutions in Customer Engagement area, so we are looking for the solutions that can help us to build better relationships with our customers to make them active users of digital channels, it can be financial solution, but not only, it can be somehow connected with banking and financial world, for example, e-commerce, loyalty programs etc. The third challenge is about Security, so we want to be even more safe bank for customers without losing customer experience, for example, behavioral biometrics. We are strongly focused on the KYC process; we want to be able to open an account for the customers remotely, give a loan or sell insurances. We have to be able to verify our customers remotely.  And the last but not the least, New Distribution Channels: we want to be present in the places where a customer needs us and needs our products, it doesn’t have to be only in our mobile banking app or Contact Center service, we also look for the new channels. We’re also open for the new ways of communicating with customers.

OG: How do you measure the success of the Program? Which metrics do you use? Do you have like targeted number of implementations per year? Or this is more about the quality?

KR: Yes, like everyone, we have our KPIs. One of them is a number of implementations and number of pilots. As I mentioned many times that we are strongly focused on implementations, so this is how we measure the success of the Program. But we also pay attention to the quality metrics, we don’t want to have only five implementations, but no one cares about that, we want also measure incomes from that solution or how the solution improves our customer experience and customer happiness. It would be awesome if we could implement all the solutions that we choose to the Program, and we do our best to do that. That’s the reason we don’t know yet how many startups we’ll have in the 2d Edition because every startup is chosen by business unit and they decide if they want to implement this solution or not. If they decide that they want to, we do everything that we can to implement the solution. But when you implement the innovation, you can’t be 100% sure that you’ll implement it and it will be successful.

OG: How many applications do you have already for the 2d Edition? How many do you want to have in the Program?

KR: The number is top secret right now. We have dozens of applications, and fortunately, many startups are interested in the Program. In the previous edition, we had almost 100 applications, and I strongly believe that this time we’ll have more than 100.

OG: What would you name the main preconditions both from bank’s side and startup’s side to make the implementation of common solution possible and successful?

KR: It’s a very tough question. It’s really hard for big organizations, like banks, to cooperate with a small and very flexible company like a startup. No only one advice will be useful for every cooperation. But I can give some small advice.  First of all, we have to remember bank is a big organization, it has its own structure, processes, many people that have to be engaged in the process, so very important (advice for banks) is to have special path of cooperation with startups, because they are totally different, they are not able to provide all the things that we want to have with during the cooperation with the normal companies. So, for example, our Accelerator is the special path for cooperation with startups, and it’s very helpful for both sides. On the startup side – it’s very important to explain the solution clearly, not to use buzz words. A startup should be aware that sometimes they will have to explain the solution many times and it’s something normal because in big organizations like banks we have many people that have to understand it and make the implementation happen. On the bank’s side it’s very important to have one person who will be responsible for the project with the startup. For example, in our bank, we have a project manager or business mentor who is dedicated to the startup and responsible for the project. This is the person who will help the startup to contact with right people in the organization, and this is the person who understands how does it work, what kind of documents we have to provide, what kind of data we have to provide and with whom we should contact. And that’s the reason we decided to dedicate business mentors to the startups that we choose to the Program.

OG: How big is RBL_? How many people are working with the startups on everyday basis?

KR: RBL_ is quite big because we have a few initiatives. One of them is RBL_START I’m responsible for. But we also have Partnership Team, and Kamila Wincenciak is the Head of Partnership Team, and she was also responsible for the 1st Edition. Accelerator Program is only the one way of cooperation with startups, but we also have people responsible for scouting, cooperating with startups with ready products to implement. We also have RBL_VC, which is Investment team, and 4-5 people are responsible for analyzing startups and making the decision in which they want to invest. We have Open Banking team responsible for a testing environment and API sandbox, cause we, as Alior Bank, have open banking strategy. We also have people responsible for researches with customers, design thinking workshops, UX. So, it’s quite a big team, around 30-40 people. But they are responsible not only for cooperation with startups but also for empowering our business units in implementing innovative solutions also inside our company, our employees also have brilliant ideas on innovations, and we also support that as RBL_.

Kamila Wincenciak (Partnership Team) and Konrad Radzik (RBL_START), Alior Bank

OG: Thank you, Konrad, for joining me today! Good luck with the second edition!

KR: Thank you and keep fingers crossed!