Societe Generale’s Catalyst sets a benchmark in startup acceleration

Since inception in 2016, Societe Generale’s (SG) flagship open innovation programme Catalyst has completed six editions, accelerated 69 startups and addressed 72 business challenges identified across the bank. The 12-week programme provides a platform for innovation experts, technology startups, fintechs, incubators, funds and academic institutions to work with SG business leaders to deliver practical solutions and insightful research in areas of strategic interest to the banking industry.

Read the interview with Rathnaprabha Manickavachagam, Managing Director, Innovation and Digital Transformation at Societe Generale’s global solution centres in India and Romania (SG GSC and SG EBS) who is driving the Catalyst programme in both the countries. Find more on why innovation is a key priority for us and how we have managed to organise the 7th edition of Catalyst in an end-to-end virtual setup during the on-going pandemic.

How will situations like Covid-19 further strengthen the need for innovation in the banking industry?

The banking industry has been preparing for extreme situations such as the current pandemic. With changing customer expectations, the banking sector was already providing contactless transactions, cashless and online services. In India, we have UPI-enabled digital and cashless services. But we were not fully prepared to enable new ways of accessing cash for cash-strapped businesses and furnish  new risk evaluation strategies for banks. The pandemic has given us opportunities to innovate in these areas.

The Innovation team along with the Strategic Transformation team play a crucial role in sharing market analysis and inputs with relevant business departments. There are several opportunities to use new technologies like hyper automation, data & artificial intelligence (AI), democratisation, as well as develop new systems to improve customer data analysis and find predictive solutions for our banking customers. The pandemic has helped us prioritise innovation even during times of cost pressure, as the focus is on real problems and futuristic, cost-effective solutions. This crisis  has brought some rare business challenges alive, and these call for well-thought, smart responses using business strategy, customer insights, innovation principles and relevant technology.

Share with us a brief about the innovation ecosystem at SG, more specific to SG GSC and SG EBS?

Earlier, the SG Group ecosystem focused on India and Romania more from an offshoring and nearshoring benefit perspective. Since 2016, SG GSC and SG EBS have brought greater focus to  pushing adoption of new-age technologies, creation of end-to-end business innovation consulting and process transformation solutions to all regions while empowering employees to ideate, creating internal startups and exploring  external ecosystem fintech solutions.

The innovation ecosystem within offshore and across the SG Group is very active and collaborative, and always on the lookout for new opportunities for our businesses to establish partnerships, create new banking products, reduce operational costs and increase revenue. We work with various ecosystems within SG countries and external banks in Europe to provide proposals and answer RFPs in Asia and Europe. We have recently concluded projects with micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) using blockchain technology to address their pre-financing needs. We are actively engaged with external agencies, conducting research paper projects in premier institutes like the IITs and signed several MoUs of external cooperation to market our products and services. We are also member of a blockchain consortium in France called CLIPIUM, an SG internal startup. We have developed consortium-level blockchain platforms for KOMGO (smart contracts-based digital trading solution for commodity and oil traders) and WeTrade (cross-border SME trading platform for banks).

We have active partnerships with NASSCOM, TiE, NUMA, VC circles, corporate startup accelerators and GCC innovation councils, etc. that enable us to collaborate with startups and help mentor them for  mutual success in the industry.

Internally, we have consulting, digital capability clusters (Cybersec, Design, Data CoEs) AI and emerging tech products, digital process transformation, business innovation, strategic projects and programme management, open innovation, academic cooperation, etc. working together to build strong capability, products and service offers for SG Group.

Can you tell us about the Catalyst acceleration programme?

Catalyst is our flagship open innovation programme where we invite innovation experts, technology startups, fintechs, incubators, funds and academic institutions for a 12-week acceleration to test their offerings with real data and business-specific scenarios. Through the Catalyst programme, we co-create a minimum viable product (MVP) along with chosen startups that aims to solve our relevant business challenges. We adopt a highly participative and co-creative approach by extending multiple dimensions of interventions with our startup partners. The programme provides systematic design engagement with our in-house design experts in alignment with the technology and business stakeholders, ensuring the MVP is developed as per our IT architecture standards. The chosen MVPs then get converted into contracts with SG after the acceleration period.

Tell us about the success of Catalyst in previous editions and how different this year’s virtual edition will be…

Since inception in 2016, Catalyst has completed six editions, accelerated 69 startups and addressed 72 business challenges identified across the bank. Catalyst 2020 will be an end-to-end virtual acceleration where mentorship and co-creation of solutions will be done remotely. The platform takes a virtual sandbox approach to securely access relevant data and infrastructure for startups. What’s new this year is the  focus on newer startup areas such as Pune, Cochin, Trichy and Coimbatore, along with major cities and metros.

What kind of startup disruption are you looking at through Catalyst 2020?

We have already identified business challenges from across the organisation which revolve around cyber security, open banking automation, payment and risk platforms, digitisation, among others. We now look forward to having interesting startups apply to our programme and suggest disruptive solutions. We aim to identify the right products to address our pain points and take those to production.

What can startups expect?

For startups, it’s an ideal time to explore partnerships with large banks like Societe Generale for strategic alignment and quick time-to-market. Startups will get an opportunity to not only have access to real-time data but also work in real-time scenarios with global entities of SG. They can look forward to finding solutions for complex business challenges and exploring new product lines under the business and technical mentorship of SG leadership team.

Startups will receive insights on taking a practical, design-driven approach on business modeling, support on UI and UX from our design team and an opportunity to own the IP developed during the Catalyst programme. In addition, the Catalyst accelerator programme will provide a paid proof of concept and internal business development opportunities across APAC, Africa and the US. We also recommend  startups who partner with us to our peer industry groups and other GCC banks.

Apply today to the 12-week startup accelerator!

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