By Nina Kirst
This article was originally published in PAGE Magazine in German language. The below is a translated selection of the full article which can be found in the October 2016 edition.
Fjord helped Commerzbank set up their own agency for service design. A trendsetting model? Or does it render the agency dispensable?
In its 2016 trends, digital agency Fjord (www.fjordnet.com) forecasted that companies would invest more in establishing innovation labs and design departments. It has now supported its client Commerzbank in setting up its own service design agency with offices in Berlin and Frankfurt. Since mid-2016, Neugelb (www.neugelb.com) – the name represents Commerzbank’s corporate color code and also its ambition to break new ground – is driving the development of digital products for the bank through design thinking and human-centrered design. We talked to Neugelb’s managing directors Holger Gruenwald and Hannes Kober and to Tobias Kruse, business design director at Fjord, about how to set up and integrate design teams – and just how much proximity and distance is required between agencies and companies.
Why has Commerzbank established Neugelb?
Holger Gruenwald: The decision was made as part of Commerzbank’s digital strategy. Up until then, it had been working with different external providers on analysis, creation and process development. So the knowledge didn’t exist in-house. Our goal was to bring together innovation management, creative expertise and information technology internally in one end-to-end process which results in serviceable products.
Is Neugelb a department of Commerzbank or an independent agency?
Gruenwald: We are a 100-percent subsidiary of Commerzbank but we are autarkic. We had spent a lot of thought on how much proximity and distance such an operating model would require. In the end we decided against any obligation to contract. That means that no Commerzbank department is required to work with us if it isn’t convinced we are the ideal service provider. The same is true for us as a service design agency: on principle, we are free to work for other parties as well with, of course, the exception of other financial services institutions.
Hannes Kober: We are a biotope and not an internal function. This is important in order to being able to find the right service design talent. And to a certain degree, competition with external providers is important to get to the best solutions. That is why we set up Neugelb as a free radical.
Tobias Kruse: In the talks we at Fjord had with Commerzbank it became very clear that they wanted the outside-in perspective to play a larger role. This was based on the insight that banks have to get closer to the people and their needs again in order to being able to develop products and offerings that people really want and need.
Bringing the external perspective inside – isn’t this a paradox?
Kruse: Not if it is about learning methods that help with continuously taking the customer perspective. We also want to carry design thinking and the ability to work in an interdisciplinary way into the organization. This is a crucial part of the digital strategy.
Gruenwald: What really distinguishes us from external providers is that we don’t only do project-based work for Commerzbank. We provide tools and methods that enable the functional teams to carry on the work independently. This way, the know-how will spread throughout the entire corporation. We have had good experiences with this in initial workshops we did in Frankfurt.
What was Fjord’s involvement in setting up Neugelb and what is its current role?
Kruse: We have been part of it from the beginning and advised Commerzbank on how to best integrate design know-how. Establishing an independent unit like Neugelb made the most sense to us. We supported Commerzbank in setting it up and together we defined the agency’s mission and scope of services. This was important for communicating it internally. We also helped develop the brand and the corporate culture whereby we brought in much of our own Fjord culture – regarding organizational structures, processes, talent management. Whenever there is demand, we support the execution of projects and work jointly with Neugelb in mixed teams.
So there is still enough to do and Fjord hasn’t rendered itself dispensable?
Kruse: No. Together with Commerzbank, we want to drive digital transformation and cultural change toward more customer proximity. We believe that we can achieve more with a construct like Neugelb than by just providing outside counsel. This is a new model, at least in Germany. It is more common for companies and banks in the US to build in-house design teams or establish long-term partnerships with design agencies or acquire them. This way, the knowledge and sovereign territory the client doesn’t want to part with remains within the company. So we aren’t afraid that we are cannibalizing our business model as an agency.
Gruenwald: This is essentially the ultimate way of supporting a client. We don’t want to establish the new agency as a profit center. Neugelb is the result of Commerzbank’s desire to realign its internal organization and structures and unlock a new area of competence. The initiative Fjord has taken here is impressive. We work as a team, huddling together in sprint planning sessions and considering the team set-ups for the coming weeks and months.
[Hannes] Kober: I used to work on the agency side and what I learned there is that trust is the most important thing if you want to establish agile service design processes. And if you act as a subsidiary within a corporation, you automatically inspire a higher level of trust. An external agency has a lot more convincing to do.
You can read the full article in PAGE Magazine, October 2016. See more at http://page-online.de/
Read more about the work in the case study here.