Banking is at a digital crossroads, says Bank of Ireland innovation chief (video)

21 Oct 2015

David Tighe, head of innovation, Bank of Ireland

The digital transformation of the banking industry is underway, led by new fintech technologies, the cashless society and an upsurge in start-up activity, says Bank of Ireland’s head of innovation David Tighe.


As we chat at Bank of Ireland’s pristine new branch at Grand Canal Dock, a group of budding entrepreneurs takes advantage of Workbench, a start-up zone with free Wi-Fi, working spaces and coffee. This is one of a number of Workbenches that Bank of Ireland has set up in Dublin, Cork, Galway and soon Limerick. It follows hot on the heels of Bank of Ireland establishing a StartLab incubator for start-ups on Eyre Square in Galway.

While Bank of Ireland has been providing seed funding support for start-ups for years now, Tighe is driving a new movement at the bank characterised by openness towards entrepreneurs and understanding the DNA of a start-up.

A rising entrepreneurial tide

He says this is just scratching the surface of the changes underway as Ireland hurtles towards eventually being a cashless society, the bank invests in Irish fintech technologies and as an entrepreneurial tide continues to rise.

“There is a massive change going on in financial services at the moment.

“We are looking at innovation in a very different way to other banks, it’s not just new ideas, but what are the things we can build, create and devise to put in front of our customers.”

‘By partnering and engaging with start-ups that creates a new momentum in our culture’

He said a lot of Bank of Ireland’s transformative efforts are in the area of fintech both locally and internationally but also are informed by the reality that many of the bank’s newest customers are digital natives who have always had internet and mobile devices.

“On one hand we have to cater for this tribe of digital natives but also there are the people who like you and me weren’t born on the internet but we are learning and gaining from the internet and that is all age ranges. It is not just new products but other channels and alternatives.”

For example, the Grand Canal branch is pioneering a new Device & Advice service so people can get the best out of their digital banking services.

“We are at the crossroads of banking at the moment. We try to look as far into the future and see how the changes might affect banking and I think we are going to see massive changes. There are real disruptions going on.”

One of the things that piques his interest is how crowdfunding has become a commonplace way for emerging businesses to raise money but also test demand for new products and services, and he believes banks should observe this trend closely.

“It’s my job to look at something like crowdfunding and figure out how a bank might engage in that model.

“But also looking further afield at what’s going on in the payments space as we push toward a cashless society. Again, there are multiple massive changes that our organisation needs to address.”

He has a point. In the US and UK Apple Pay has gone live, allowing users to use their iPhones and Apple Watches to make purchases; it is only a matter of time before this becomes available in Ireland and banks and merchants need to be ready.

Emerging businesses

Tighe is pushing for Bank of Ireland to be seen as the start-up’s bank, but key to that is understanding start-ups first. Gene Murphy has been appointed entrepreneur-in-residence at Bank of Ireland and Tracy Keogh has been appointed Start-up Community Manager for the bank.

“Start-ups are pivotal to what we do in may ways. It’s not that they are a customer segment of ours but they are hugely important to everything we do from an innovation perspective.

“As a traditional bank we want to provide loans, take deposits and work with businesses, that is core to what we do; but the interest we have in start-ups is the products they provide and the businesses they are building.

“What I am seeing is lean methodologies, a strong understanding of what the customer is about and the ability to build and develop products that customers want to get their hands on.”

Tighe said that the bank has made a point of buying in fintech products from Irish start-ups and organisations.

“We’ve actually purchased fintech products from Irish businesses that we’ve engaged with and we’ve pushed them out to customers. It’s about finding those new innovations and keeping our mind open around any community where we can find innovations for fintech.

“By partnering and engaging with start-ups that creates a new momentum in our culture.”

Fintech Focus is a week of fresh fintech-focused content hosted on from 19 to 23 October. Stay up to date with the latest stories by subscribing to our news alerts, or follow the hashtag#FintechFocus from @siliconrepublic on Twitter.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years