BeeOne Innovation Lab Interview With Oriol and Mario

BeeOne Innovation Lab Interview With Oriol and Mario
Picture of Oriol Pons and Mario Brkic

As a voted finalist of the prestigious SWIFT Innotribe challenge, we’re heading to Boston in September for the grand final. One of the perks was an invitation from BeeOne, the innovation lab of Erste Group, to participate in a preparation bootcamp. Oriol and Mario, two of the leaders from BeeOne looked after us magnificently. We ate great local food, networked with other finalists, brainstormed the future of Fintech and received great feedback on our product. Presenting how we saw CurrencyTransfer.com in 2021 was an exciting experience in forward planning.

Today, we caught up with Oriol Pons and Mario Brkic.

Hey guys, tell us the BeeOne elevator pitch in one sentence?

Oriol:

(laugh). BeeOne is a great story about a bank trying to survive with full of crazy people. It is the innovation lab for Erste Group and in the future it won’t simply be limited to the bank, it has the capacity to help other big companies in the future.

Mario:

So we’re the digital innovation company of Erste Group, which is a banking group in central and eastern Europe, and we’re set up to basically imagine how we would like the bank to look if we were setting it up from scratch. That’s the short story.

What’s your background?

Oriol:

I studied economics and have a masters in finance. Worked in investment banking, moved to consultancy and this has brought me into the world of innovation. Now I’m at BeeOne.

Mario:

I have an economics degree but always dabbled in different aspect of tech. I also worked in a bank before coming, where I got to experience first hand things that weren’t working well.

What’s the relationship between Erste Bank and the BeeOne Hub of Innovation?

Oriol:

Erste Bank is the largest Austrian banking group, with a main focus on Central and Eastern Europe. We cover 7 countries and 17 million customers. The relationship is close, we are a part of the group. We are the challengers, we want to make the group innovate and charge. It’s a bit of a hate and love relationship. We make changes that bring a lot of frustration to the Bank, at the same time we can’t implement all the changes we want. Out of this coalition, the bank starts to move fast.

Mario:

We’re funded by Erste Bank and they’re our primary partner and market.

Can you pinpoint 2-3 hot new products you’ve released as a result of the BeeOne Innovation Lab?

Oriol:

QuickCheck. It’s an application that allows you to check your balance with the security preferences you prefer. Now other major global banks implement 2 years after we did. The second big thing we have done is called Money. It’s an online check of how I am versus money. You can answer questions and choose between options regarding investment and switching strategies.

Mario:

One is QuickCheck which is a simplified app to see the basic things such as your balance and transactions. Another is Queueing App, an app that lets you reserve a number in line in a branch and notifies you when you’ll be called. With this app you don’t have to stand in line, you can go enjoy a coffee until it’s your turn. In the coming months we’ll be launching a few things to the market that are as we see it, more mature, and we’ve been working on them in the last year and a half.

We learnt the awesomeness of shooting sessions. Can you explain more how small businesses can use these to their benefit?

Oriol:

Shooting sessions have 2 objectives. One is to make the concept and solution complete, that it has no leaking or weak points. The second objective it’s a team story, getting to know what the other people in your organization are working on. The tech guys get to know what business development are doing and the whole process becomes very interactive.

Mario:

It’s a good way of structuring criticism. You find out problems you’ll find out anyways, but instead you find out right away and in a structured manner.

What’s the future of Erste Bank in 2021?

Oriol:

(laugh). Ah, the hunted starts hunting. It may not exist as it is today. It will be in a better position as the other banks are not innovating as we are today.

Mario:

I think the future of Erste Bank will be much more open. It will be focused more on user experience and design, with a lot more transparency. In general, banks will shift and will not be offering everything any more. Rather, they will focus on the core competencies.

How do these bootcamps help BeeOne achieve it’s vision and mission?

Oriol:

The purpose of BeeOne bootcamp is to be close to the startup ecosystem. This helps us to have a clear view of what is going on and we also get very good connections and preferences. Whether we do something with startups today or in the future, our paths can cross which can only be a good thing.

Mario:

It’s great to meet everyone and see what you’re doing. From last year we have an ongoing relationship with one of the startups that was here, so it’s great to have another successful year and build new relationships.

How did you rate the quality of the 2014 cohort?

Oriol:

Excellent. It exceeded expectations!

Mario:

I think you guys were really good, but I can’t compare because it’s hard to say better or worse. You see similarities like Azimo from last year and TransferGo this year. As well, the brainstorming session we had for the future 7 years was really great and good to see the evolution. This year we saw deeper conversation about artificial intelligence, which was really interesting.

Do you guys have an international payment product and if so, how could we partner at CurrencyTransfer?

Oriol:

Right now, I know we do international payments and know we serve the region. The guys are always looking to innovate, but the complexity of the business means there isn’t such a huge playground to do things.

Mario:

As a bank we have international payment products. I’m not in that space that much but we can always present what you’re doing to other departments and see if it is something they can use and if there is space for cooperation.

How do you make foreign exchange transactions?

Oriol:

I do international payments but in SEPA area so no major friction. Working for banks I had big problems to pay large transfers for things like hotels. Lately, I haven’t been trading internationally so much, if I need to make payments I will use my credit card. I don’t suffer from hidden fees and commission so much.

Mario:

I just use standard bank transfers. We’re not officially bank employees, but we get bank conditions, which means no fees. It’s a no brainer.

Aviva Tabachnik is Partnerships Executive at CurrencyTransfer.com