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Created on 10.05.2023

Impact banking: exerting influence through sustainable innovations

How can a bank with innovative solutions have a positive influence on encouraging a sustainable approach? We ask Luca Sigrist. He’s responsible for open innovation at VNTR and identifies – in the context of current innovation initiatives – exciting approaches outside of PostFinance.

Sometimes the ideas Luca Sigrist encounters in his work go far beyond what’s generally conceivable. For example, the proposal to develop data centers based on living organisms. This approach was presented by representatives of the bio-tech startup “Grown Your Own Cloud” at an event held by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institut (GDI). The startup wants to use genetic engineering to store digital data in the DNA of plants which in turn generate energy and absorb CO2. Could this “Data Garden” represent the green future of data storage?

Open-minded about the next innovation in sustainability

At VNTR, PostFinance’s innovation and venturing initiative, Luca Sigrist is responsible for open innovation through the systematic integration of external ideas and partners into the innovation process. His tasks include identifying promising future-oriented approaches in clearly defined search and assessing potential partnerships with startups, universities of applied sciences, traditional universities or other innovative companies. “To achieve innovation and develop business areas in which PostFinance isn’t currently active, we seek to obtain ideas from outside,” he explains. That also means being open-minded himself about ideas that still sound a bit bizarre at the moment.

Luca Sigrist has worked at PostFinance in the field of innovation since 2019. The former trainee is now responsible for open innovation at VNTR | Innovation & Venturing by PostFinance.

Net positive rather than net zero: a proactive approach to sustainability

One of the search areas VNTR focuses on is impact banking. “Based on strong customer demand and efforts in other industries, we explore how we can shape the future of banking towards more sustainable practices” says Luca Sigrist. VNTR looks far into the future and searches for new opportunities and technologies that could enable PostFinance to make a positive impact on the future – with a proactive understanding of sustainability. Instead of net zero, VNTR is targeting net positive or put another way: “Future products and services should not just contribute towards limiting damage, but instead have a positive impact on the environment and society.”

In the future, sustainable solutions should not just contribute to limiting damage, but should make a positive impact.
Luca Sigrist, Open Innovation Lead at VNTR

In the impact banking focus area, VNTR explores the following ideas

The impact banking search field doesn’t just include the ecological dimension of sustainability, but also social aspects. So VNTR has recently been focusing on the questions of:

  • How can women be encouraged to take a greater interest in investment in future as part of financial integration?
  • How can SMEs be equipped to find suitable sustainability partners?
  • How can companies be encouraged to make donation activities an integral part of payment transactions, following the lead of the startup grownate?

CO2 calculator developed in-house

Projects merging various trends together are also exciting: in the case of PostFinance’s COcalculator, for example, these were the customer need for self-optimization, the desire to contribute towards sustainability and the opportunity of using data to achieve this.

As in lots of projects, when creating the CO2, calculator we asked ourselves: Does PostFinance want to develop its own CO2 calculator or cooperate with similar solutions already on the market? “We opted to develop the CO2 calculator ourselves as we had the internal expertise available,” explains Luca Sigrist.

Partnerships and investments for bundled sustainability expertise

But VNTR is constantly looking for access to technologies and expertise via partnerships or through investments in highly promising startups. One example is PostFinance’s investment in Doconomy, a company which provides a range of impact calculators based on lifestyle, product and payment data. The Swedish startup is one of the leading providers of sustainable financial services and could play a key role in initiating new ideas or developing existing PostFinance sustainability initiatives in future.

Three questions for Luca Sigrist, Open Innovation Lead at VNTR

You’re heavily involved with the topic of sustainability. How did that come about?

I’ve had a strong personal interest in sustainability for a long time. At VNTR, I’ve gained specific knowledge as topic owner of the impact banking foucus area that I’m now ondeepening thanks to my Circular Innovation and Sustainability degree programme at Bern University of Applied Sciences. In light of the challenges we now face with climate change and the constantly rising use of resources due to population and economic growth, we must develop new mindsets to shift away from a linear approach to a circular one.

Circular economy: exciting approaches for the finance industry

How can the finance industry help our society to become more sustainable and circular? Luca Sigrist provides some examples of approaches and topics:

  • Funding of sustainable business models: today machinery for industry is generally manufactured, sold and written off. Financing business models like leasing-as-a-service would give manufacturers a stronger interest in producing their machinery so that it is long-lasting, as they would retain ownership of the machinery throughout its entire product lifecycle. The longer it remains in operation, the longer it generates revenues that can be captured, and the residual value of the materials isn’t lost either.
  • New insurance models: current insurance models don’t really encourage us to share our cars or our property with others. If we lend somebody a product in return for payment, insurance policies often don’t cover damage of occasional second or multiple users. A good example is the Swedish startup The link will open in a new window omocom that is developing insurance solutions to promote the sharing economy.
  • Shareholder engagement and active ownership: how can shareholders succeed in demonstrating greater commitment to their company’s sustainability? And how can the voices of the many sustainability-motivated small investors be brought together to effect changes that promote sustainability? One consistent, albeit extreme, example is Patagonia. Its founder said that the Earth would be the company’s sole shareholder with immediate effect. 

What’s special about your job?

At VNTR, we’re tasked with anticipating the future of banking and producing innovation. We don’t primarily focus on improving existing solutions or developing processes for PostFinance’s core business. Instead, we experiment on new business models and fields outside the current core business. We search for solutions, allowing us to expand our horizon. Seeing the bigger picture is extremely enriching and exciting.

What’s the greatest challenge when innovating in new horizons?

Searching for innovative solutions that we can implement in the company right now, while also having to look beyond the horizon to identify the next trends and changes in the market and society. Bringing these two worlds together often requires courage, assertiveness and perseverance. You have to try different possibilities for developing an idea as far as you can, while also being aware that a high quota of projects won’t even make it to market-launch stage. That’s why we’ve published two books: the “Failbook”, outlining the learnings from the many “failed” projects and the “Successbook”, exploring success factors in innovation.

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