A sound is produced when the unstoppable force of a startup hits the slow-moving object of a large, traditional industry.

It’s a popping, croaking noise; the sound that caught in the throats of some among the more than 100 assembled financial professionals when Mike Kirkup, Chief Technology Officer of productivity tools startup Encircle, took the stage at last night’s FinTank event at Kitchener’s Tannery Event Centre.

It came as Kirkup decried the lack of trust in the insurance industry, saying, “We all know stories about friends or people we know getting screwed by their insurance companies.”

He was 15 seconds into his talk.

Of the almost 200 attendees at FinTank, more than half were from an enterprise-level company, and Kirkup’s strong medicine was exactly what brought them to the Tannery. He connected this failure of trust to a variety of problems bedevilling the industry, including the $40 billion lost to non-health insurance fraud each year in the U.S. alone.

Inside of a minute, Kirkup, whose company sells into the insurance and financial services industries, was offering startup solutions to speed process, improve customer experience and rebuild that crucial trust.

The challenges facing startups and enterprise companies in financial services — and what each can learn from the other — was the theme of the night. Four speakers kicked things off with a series of lightning talks: Cindy Forbes, Executive Vice-President and Chief Analytics Officer at Manulife; Brent Reynolds, Managing Vice-President at Capital One; Sylvain Nolet, Vice-President, P&C Pricing and Segmentation at The Co-operators; and Kirkup.

Once finished, all sat down with moderator Chris Forrest, Innovation Project Manager at Deloitte, for a panel discussion.

When Forrest opened the floor to questions, he fielded an excellent one on the first try: What are good metrics a company should use to measure and report on innovation? The responses from startup and enterprise couldn’t have been more different.

“Revenue,” answered Kirkup to a big laugh. He never elaborated. He didn’t need to; his point was made: As a startup, Encircle needs to knit innovation into to everything it does, so much so that the level of innovation at the company is measured by the very strength of its pulse. If Encircle isn’t offering novel solutions, it will cease to exist.

For Reynolds at Capital One, the story is much more complicated. An existing company hoping to disrupt itself sees revenue is a “lag metric” proving only “that innovation worked,” a nod to the different pace of life at an enterprise. So much revenue comes into the company, from such varied sources, that it isn’t a useful way to measure the effect of innovations at the front line.

The key for an enterprise, Reynolds told the crowd, is to “really start out with a clear intent of why they’re innovating and into what spaces they want to go.

“If it is around improving the customer experience, your traditional metrics fall back into place. I think where we start to get into the more bleeding edge of innovation — like artificial intelligence and what could be… instead of failing fast, we’re looking at some leading metrics around how many opportunities to learn we took advantage of. Looking at some of those early signs and encouraging the behaviours that drive toward innovation.”

It was a vital message for the enterprise tech workers in the room, and for startups, a valuable glimpse of the challenges to come.

Even with the many differences between the communities, common ground was easy to find when looking to the future. When Forrest closed off the evening with an open call for parting thoughts, Kirkup spoke first: “It’s only going to keep changing.” The entire panel nodded in assent.

Everyone in the audience laughed – except those who didn’t.

About The Author

Phil Froklage
Digital Journalist/Multimedia Producer

Phil Froklage is a writer, filmmaker and journalist in Waterloo Region obsessed with the future. Passionate about science and technology — and how it shapes our world — Phil likes nothing more than being surprised by the amazing things human beings can do.