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Innovating for well over a century

Canada’s biggest bank takes a new path beyond banking

Innovating for well over a century
RBC Ventures’ human-centered approach to innovation understands that people’s unique experiences result in products that truly matter.

With more than 150 years in business, Royal Bank of Canada understands what it takes to stay relevant and successful. The ability to pivot is a key ingredient—and is why the bank launched RBC Ventures, to focus on products and services that go beyond banking.

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RBC Ventures is led by Mike Dobbins, RBC’s chief strategy and corporate development officer, who founded it with a small group of innovators from within and outside the bank. RBC Ventures serves as an internal incubator for the parent bank—Canada’s largest based on market capitalization—working to nurture and support viable ideas from ideation to concept to reality. The goal: to build defensibly different products that improve lives, and, hopefully, draw new customers to RBC.

Most of RBC Ventures’ projects are digital. They include services to help parents teach their kids to manage money, help people care for their homes, and social platforms to connect baby boomers. In only two years, it has shepherded more than two dozen products and services to market, and has invested in several others. It’s that proactive and creative approach to diversifying RBC’s business that earned RBC Ventures a spot this year on Fast Company‘s list of the Best Workplaces for Innovators.

“We’re here not just to differentiate, but to be one of a kind,” says Cheesan Chew, RBC Ventures’ chief operating officer. “Our culture stems from this moment of needing to be disruptive.”

SPOTTING OPPORTUNITY

RBC Ventures finds their next great idea by clearly articulating a “pain point” that is relevant to the user.

Take Prepped, a platform providing job search training and tools. Understanding that many recent graduates generally rely on online job search platforms, Prepped provides users with a learning plan, helping them build their resume, develop an elevator pitch, and sharpen their interviewing skills.

But a changing market gave the platform room to grow to serve people at different career stages. That evolution became especially important this year amid a sharp uptick in job losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Millions of people are looking for their next role,” Chew says. “This is one of our ventures that has really found meaning during this time.”

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A HUMAN TOUCH

Algorithms and market analyses alone can’t identify the problems that sparked projects such as Prepped, and Ownr, which helps startups incorporate. That’s why RBC Ventures takes a human-centered approach to innovation: Its philosophy is grounded in the principle that understanding people’s unique experiences will result in products and solutions that truly matter.

That human approach isn’t always easy. Sometimes, Chew points out, it requires keeping an open mind and welcoming diverse perspectives to generate new ideas, and more importantly, to execute them. “We have an openness to discuss and debate,” she says. “And we have an openness to saying when something isn’t working … [which allows us to] divert resources to things that will make a difference.”

Chew adds that diversity and inclusion is an embedded core value, where RBC Ventures values representation and draws on the full spectrum of ideas and abilities of the organization. “When you bring all of these different perspectives together, we start to form these teams where new ideas come together,” she says. “And that’s how real innovation happens.”

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