Turning a Global Disruption into Opportunity at Fidelity & Citi Ventures

August 5, 2020

In this keynote conversation from InnoLead’s Charting the Future event, two innovators from the financial services sector talk about changes in the industry. Mona Vernon is the Head of Fidelity Labs. Alex Sion is the Co-Head of D10x, where Citibank’s venture arm incubates new ideas. 

Two takeaways from the conversation follow. 

How the Financial Services Industry has Shifted 

When discussing shifts in financial services during the pandemic, Sion pointed to three major changes. Firstly, he said, there has been increased digital adoption, especially in online banking and ecommerce. Another category is the business model of financial institutions, he said, especially when customers cannot visit banks in person. The third category is consumer behavior. 

“Our customers’ attitudes…towards money in their lifestyles have been upended… [These could be] potentially long term, dramatic behavior shifts, that we’re still just trying to get a sense of, in terms of what they value what they spend on,” Sion said. 

According to Sion, these quick, but important, shifts have increased the importance of market validation. “In this direct, disruptive period, asking people what they want in a focus group…[is] probably the riskiest things that you can do, because the world is changing so dramatically,” he said. “So I’ve been pushing…the philosophy of in-market validation…because the world is moving way too fast.”

Vernon also discussed the importance of watching customer behavior and responding quickly. She focused on people who are unemployed during the pandemic. She cited Hyatt as an example — a company where 12,000 employees were laid off. 

“Will those 12,000 people go back to that same industry? Will they be like a restructuring? What does that mean for supporting them with their financial needs?” Vernon asked. “It’s just an incredible opportunity to think about innovative ways to bring financial wellness to people.” 

Turn the Challenges of Remote Work into Strength 

While lockdowns keep employees at home, all interactions take place on webcalls, over the phone, or through chat services. Sion noted that this has limited opportunities for “creative collisions” and serendipitous idea exchanges that can lead to breakthroughs. However, the limits of the digital world has also created benefits. 

“In some ways, the discipline of having to work in zoom and more structure to some of the environments has been a net good thing,” Sion said. “We’ve been more efficient at essentially project management.”

Prior to working at Fidelity, Vernon worked at Thomson Reuters and communicated regularly with teams all over the globe. She said that best practices when working with distributed teams prove effective during this period of work from home.

“[My team at Fidelity] got into this habit where you can ping someone and then three of us just jump on an impromptu video chat or voice chat [on Microsoft Teams],” she said. “On Friday, I’ll leave two hours open. And it’s, anybody can walk in, ask me anything, show me anything, they just send me a ping. … We feel pretty good that we’re able to do a little bit more of that creative collision.”

Vernon also said that video conferencing tools can be an equalizer for different team members. “I’m five-foot-five, if I…walk in a room, and there is a colleague that is six-foot-five, there is a natural power play that happens,” she said. “Let’s embrace that [digital] equalizer. There is just an opportunity to think about what that means for a more inclusive workplace.”