Nationwide is the world’s largest building society with 15m customers and is no stranger to financial services innovation. 

It was the first brand to offer internet banking in 1997, the first to offer a wearable banking app which has been rolled out to Apple Watch and, in 2014, it became the first high street provider to offer 24/7 customer service via Twitter.

Its Head of Group Innovation, Daryl Wilkinson, leads Nationwide’s Innovation Lab at its head office in Swindon. The Lab has pioneered a number of projects harnessing emerging technologies including next generation biometrics, wearables, future payments, artificial intelligence and beacons.

“Innovation is vital to the future of FinServ and essential for the UK economy,” he says.

“There is a richness of entrepreneurial flare in this country and now plenty of government support to progress the significant changes we are seeing in financial services.”

The Innovation Lab

The Lab is Nationwide’s centre of insight where new ideas to make people’s lives better are originated, tested with customers, and fine-tuned.  Wilkinson leads a team of FinTech innovators whose skills range from commercial strategy to social anthropology and software engineering.

The Lab also hosts FinTech seminars, debates and one-off events all designed to nurture and exploit the industry’s culture of innovation and to mentor new talent.

Nationwide as a business and Wilkinson himself have established relationships within London’s FinTech heartland and further afield in Silicon Valley. These global connections are inspiring disruptive thinking and partnerships so Nationwide can effectively mentor exciting FinTech start-ups in early stage proposition development and bring new solutions to market.

“The Innovation Lab is helping us to accelerate our digital agenda,” says Wilkinson. “I saw significant changes ahead in this market when I joined Nationwide more than three years ago and since then we have been responding to these opportunities, delivering to the changing expectations of our members, whilst contributing to the progressive evolution of retail banking.”

In Swindon there is creative space for FinTech innovators to work collaboratively alongside the experts within Nationwide. The building society wants to co-create and co-invest in entrepreneurs’ financial service solutions to help them scale up their businesses much quicker.

“It is exciting to talk about FinTech versus traditional banks and building societies but this is not the best approach,” says Wilkinson.

“Start-ups need incumbents to scale faster and for help in navigating regulatory requirements, and traditional players need the start-ups to access creative thinking and a more liberated and agile approach. Our Innovation Lab is an area which has the processes and necessary pre-approvals to get things done.”

Nationwide remains an active supporter of Accenture’s FinTech Innovation Lab London. This is a 12-week mentoring programme which helps early and growth stage start-ups accelerate their businesses with the assistance of industry experts.

Of course the measure of any initiative such as the Nationwide Innovation Lab is whether it is delivering real change.

“Innovation is the tool to improve things for our stakeholders, whether that is for a customer or start-up,” says Wilkinson. “I judge success by the number of fresh business ideas we generate, driven by insight, which then go on to help move the market forward. Has an idea solved a problem and taken us forward? Is it bringing value to the customer and the business?”

Going Contactless

Wilkinson cites the success of Nationwide’s low-cost N.Band trial which allowed customers to make contactless payments using a wristband.

“We rolled this out to gather data on how people would use wearables to pay in a contactless way. It told us we needed to be in this space and provided the confidence to get in early with Apple and bring Apple Pay to market quickly.”

Being a building society rather than a bank is also helping Nationwide to build lasting relationships with disruptors. “Some start-up banks come to us because they feel we share the same values and like what we are doing. Our mission to move the market forward for the benefit of consumers doesn’t have to compete with the needs of shareholders.”

So what about the future?

“Nationwide is committed to making its members’ lives easier and finding ways to help them manage their money at a time, in a place and in a way which suits them,” says Wilkinson. “To do that, innovative thinking is essential.”