Rewiring the DNA in banking

The Global Head of our innovation hub SC Ventures on transforming banking with intrapreneurs, fintechs and new business models

2 November 2018

At the start of the year, we launched SC Ventures, a new group designed to promote innovation, partner with and invest in fintechs and rethink business models. We caught up with Alex Manson, Global Head of SC Ventures, to find out why disrupting ourselves is so important for future success.

SC Ventures is about introducing new ways of thinking about banking. By experimenting both internally and externally, we can generate a constant flow of ideas. Internally, this is mainly done through what we like to call our ‘intrapreneurs’; these are colleagues with an idea that could change the Bank – everything from a small efficiency change or a completely new business model. We provide the tools and environment for them to develop, experiment and validate their ideas in our innovation labs, which we call eXellerators. It’s proving successful – we’ve had more than a thousand ideas, and around 20 projects are moving to prototype stage.

We also partner with fintechs to develop products and services that make our clients' lives easier. This typically leads to partnerships being formed and sometimes even investment opportunities. Last but not least, to take our ideas forward, we are very open to experimenting with building new business models or ventures that could potentially disrupt the way we operate today.

To be clear: there is no such thing as innovation for the sake of innovation. Banking is all about serving clients in the way they want to be served. We are transforming the way we work – rewiring the DNA that underpins how we think about banking. Just as our customers are expecting the way they are served to change in the face of technological innovation, our corporate clients are also being disrupted, and they too want to reinvent themselves. We can work with our clients on building new business models and digital solutions, though with a start-up approach one might not expect from a large bank. Sometimes, we bring our fintech partners into this process to tap their technological and human-centred design expertise, but also their agile methods and start-up mindset.

Client co-creation is very important to us. We always want to experiment and learn to solve our clients’ needs, and the solutions we create have the potential to be rolled out across our global footprint, benefitting as many of our clients as possible.

SC VENTURES"Innovation is non-negotiable. It's not an option."

We want to be courageous and empathetic – that’s what I think differentiates SC Ventures from other innovation efforts. As an established player, it takes a lot of courage to potentially cannibalise your own business to experiment, learn and move forward. Empathy plays a big role because we know how hard it is to be a start-up trying to make a breakthrough, just as sometimes it is hard to drive change or set up something that’s never existed before in large organisations.

Fundamentally it’s about people, culture and mindset. At the end of the day, SC Ventures is just a platform and we are only as good as the people who engage with us. We stand for serving clients in the best possible way, with capabilities transformed by innovation and technology evolution, seeing the opportunity to do things differently, collaboratively and more quickly.


We’ve opened our UK eXellerator lab!

11 October 2018

London. Standard Chartered has opened an eXellerator innovation lab in London, providing a platform to co-create solutions with clients, build stronger engagement with the local fintech community and drive innovation across the Group. The London eXellerator is located in the Bank’s head office within the City of London and will serve as its UK and European innovation hub.

The eXellerator lab is a collaboration space for clients, fintechs and other partners to come together and solve business problems. It is underpinned by human-centred design and a lean start-up approach, while collaboration with fintech partners will lead to rapid prototyping and testing of solutions.

Standard Chartered launched its first eXellerator in Singapore in 2016, followed by Hong Kong in 2018 to better engage with fintech community trends and clients in North Asia. The bank has had a presence in Silicon Valley since 2010 to connect with fintechs and investors, while its technology centre in Bangalore puts it at the heart of the “Silicon Valley of the East”. The labs are part of the Bank’s SC Ventures unit, which is responsible for promoting innovation, investing in disruptive financial technology, and exploring alternative business models.

Commenting on the launch, Alex Manson, Global Head of SC Ventures said: “Our clients across almost every industry are experiencing disruption in their businesses. There is an urgency for them to reinvent themselves and we have the capabilities to help. Our understanding of technology applied to business helps us innovate together, working on new business models and digital solutions for them.”

Tracy Clarke, CEO, Europe and Americas, Standard Chartered added: “London is a real hub for innovation, with banks, fintech start-ups and industry partners all located in close proximity. This creates a pool of knowledge and talent, which we’re looking forward to engaging with.”

Standard Chartered’s London eXellerator will serve as a focal point for bringing together talent, new technologies and innovative mindsets to create the next generation of products for our clients.

For more information please contact:
Lauren Verner
Corporate Affairs, Standard Chartered, Europe
+44 (0) 20 7885 7479


SC Ventures: Combining venture capital with internal innovation

8 October 2018

SC Ventures launched in Singapore; combines internal accelerator with venture capital.

Standard Chartered and venture capital have not been the best of friends in recent years. The bank has spent more than three years exiting its loss-making private equity arm, a process that is still grinding along now.

What to make, then, of SC Ventures, the new business unit launched out of Singapore in January? 

Alex Manson, SC Ventures Alex Manson, the former global head of transaction banking who heads the business, tells Euromoney that SC Ventures has quite different priorities to Standard Chartered’s previous private equity ambitions and in fact only one of the three lines of the new business is about venture capital.

“Our internal mission statement talks about rewiring the DNA in banking,” Manson says. “In transforming banking, there is an external and an internal element, and we think we need to do both at the same time and under the same roof.”

SC Ventures has three arms. The first is responsible for creating catalysts for change and includes the eXellerator innovation lab. “We run what we call the intrapreneur programme, which encourages people in the bank to step forward with ideas and pitch them to a platform.” 

Brainstorming room

This has something of the feel of ‘The Apprentice’ about it. On the 17th floor office the business inhabits in the Marina Bay Financial Centre there is a brainstorming room insiders call the Dragon’s Den, where people can pitch ideas to a group. People on the platform have investment dollars they can commit to these ideas and the best ones are crowdsourced internally and implemented. 

Over 1,000 ideas have been submitted this way in the last six months.

The second arm of the business is a professional investment unit that manages Standard Chartered’s minority stakes in its fintech partners. “In that sense it is different from a venture capital fund,” Manson says. “We don’t just invest in anything we think is interesting. It has to be relevant to the bank, by which we mean there is at a minimum an engagement in a successful POC [proof of concept] and an intention to implement production.” 

Examples include Ripple, the distributed ledger technology company, in which Standard Chartered is an investor and a partner, developing global trade and payments applications; and Paxata, an enterprise information management company. “It’s not control. It’s influence, credibility, an alignment of interests,” says Manson.  

We understand that ventures in and of themselves are not going to move the needle. We need the symbiosis between internal and external ideas   - Alex Manson, SC Ventures

The third business does look like a classic venture capital arm, except that it looks inward. This unit will sponsor and oversee new disruptive technology ventures that are at least partly owned by Standard Chartered. 

“The idea is to test new business models by incubating, setting up and spinning off businesses that are independent and distinct from the bank,” says Manson. The first one to be announced involves the application for a virtual banking licence in Hong Kong. The virtual bank that would be launched with this licence would have its own brand and be run separately to Standard Chartered with a team independent of the rest of the retail banking operations. 

The idea came from conversations between Standard Chartered’s top management, including chief executive Bill Winters, and Manson. “We discussed how if you do transformation innovation in a vacuum, those efforts typically end up fading,” Manson says. “People get tired of being evangelized, evangelists get tired of speaking. What makes a big difference is to put our money where our mouth is and not be scared of disrupting ourselves in markets that are relevant to us.

“We understand that ventures in and of themselves are not going to move the needle. We need the symbiosis between internal and external ideas.

“So the conversation evolved to this: it is very courageous on the bank’s part to back a venture that requires us to disrupt ourselves, moving way beyond incremental transformation.”

Patchy success

Naturally, anything that encourages a free flow of thousands of ideas is going to have a patchy success rate. “As you would expect, 10% are never going to work, 10% are jewels,” says Manson. Some pitch products, some pitch blockchain applications and some pitch completely changing a business model. 

On the venture and partnership side, Manson sets great store in being part of a broader ecosystem of stakeholders and getting everyone to move in step. “The work we’ve done with Ripple has gone from strength to strength,” he says. “That is, I believe, a result of them thinking that we are not just a validation of their technology but have worked with them to help navigate the world of payments, to understand the different things you need to care about.”

And how does this compare to the ill-fated private equity arm? “The main distinction is relevance,” he says. “Everything has to be relevant, ultimately integrated with the bank.”


Chat with the Digital Innovators: Alex Manson Head of SC Ventures

15 August 2018

It is indeed a rare opportunity to have a quick chat with the man in his new role at SC Ventures – a new business unit established in Mar 2018 to lead digital innovation across Standard Chartered Group. The new unit invests in fintechs, startups and promote the rapid testing and implementation of new business models.

Alex Manson who heads SC Ventures is tasked with the promotion of intrapreneurship by helping the rest of the Group in prolem-solving and spreading innovation best practices; running a professional investment unit to seek opportunities and manage the Group’s strategic investments in fintech companies; and thirdly managing the Venture unit which will sponsor and oversee new disruptive technology ventures that are wholly or partially owned by Standard Chartered.

TFAGeeksWe know you are flying around the globe with a hectic schedule, akin to the neck-breaking speed that technology is moving and influencing our daily and professional lives. Many of our readers have probably read and heard about this new venture by Standard Chartered, but most do not have a good understanding about the new setup. Will you be able to share more about SC Ventures? Why is it a separate entity and not one that is within the Standard Chartered Group itself? There are many Banks who have created innovation centres, digitalization arms or fintech departments?

Alex: It is a bit of both.  SC Ventures is actually an unit of the bank. We are responsible for intrapreneurship, individual ventures that are separate and distinct from the bank, as well as investing in Fintechs. 

We sometimes need to operate separately from the Bank in order to allow us to experiment in a contained environment. This gives us more flexibility to apply the processes that are more appropriate for each unique situation. For example, onboarding a Fintech in the eXellerator is not the same thing as onboarding a large tech vendor. It warrants a different type of response and different process to cater to the subtle differences.

At the same time, we still need to be connected to the bank so that we can get the sufficient level of ownership from the business units. As we have seen with many labs or corporate venture capital efforts, this connection is critical if we want the bank and its clients to have direct access and to be able to get the most out of our experiments.  

Therefore we have designed it to be under the same roof, bearing both an internal and an external lens, and we have the conviction that there will be self-reinforcing flows across our three pillars of intrapreneurship, investments and new ventures. 

TFAGeeksIntrapreneurship indeed! What are the goals of SC Ventures and what do you have in mind when it comes to collaboration with corporations or fintechs?

Alex: The goal of SC Ventures is to “rewire the DNA in Banking”.  “Banking” because it is not just about the bank, it is about the whole ecosystem, the whole Banking industry and all the different stakeholders in it – it is about creating new business models.

“DNA” because although technology is omnipresent, it is not about technology but rather about humans participating in business. The human touch is still relevant in an age of technology!

Transforming DNA does not happen by itself or within a top down line of command. Instead we believe in an open network of partners, including both our clients and Fintechs, co-creating solutions with human-centered design in mind, a lean start-up approach and technology enablement.

TFAGeeksIf possible, will you be able to share some of the interesting cases that SC Ventures have taken on? And what are the plans that you are planning?

Alex: We have announced our intention to apply for a digital banking license in HK.  We are also exploring options to build and collaborate with platforms to remain closer to clients. As to other ventures, I hate to do this but do stay tuned!

In the context of client co-creation we already have a pretty good track record actually.

For example, in Q1 2018, we launched a solution in India to help our corporate clients digitize their day to day hedging and operational activity on a single platform. This was a result of co-creating with our clients to solve the issue of  Financial Markets clients having to face onerous documentation and reporting requirements.

We also bring a business and client focus to the adoption of technology. For example, we’ve embarked on proof of concepts such as Trade Finance, Credit Risk, AML, Fraud Detection, Wealth Management, Retail credit, and are rapidly going into production where we have seen success.

TFAGeeksWhich is more important – disruption or collaboration?

Alex: Both! We have no issue disrupting ourselves as long as we achieve progress and serve clients better, add more value…and the way we do this is by collaborating with others. The two words are not mutually exclusive!

TFAGeeksTechnology is the buzzword of late, but do you think that corporations are embracing it at the speed and extent that it should be?

Alex: I think corporations, including banks, are doing what they can in the context of having an existing business to run, clients to serve every day, regulations to comply with and legacy systems and technology architecture. 

But this is actually almost a distraction at times; while it is critical to embrace technology and sometimes retool the corporation and people working in it, the real legacy is often not technology but the business model.  

That is the hard one because mindsets and organizational set-ups are geared to an existing model and rethinking it fundamentally is often very difficult – however this is even more critical at times and that is the part corporations never embrace fast enough (hence the need to experiment outside of the organization in some circumstances).

TFAGeeksWhy and what are holding decision makers and stakeholders from adopting technology?

Alex: Fear, inertia, ignorance, territoriality and instinct for control (also known as politics) – these are the bad ones. 

There are also some good reasons: security, scarce resources (both financial and people), limited user testing, unproven models and meeting regulatory guidelines.

The main hold back however is management thinking: applying a great technology to conventional thinking will typically yield…pretty conventional results with incremental improvements (at which point the same management may decide it’s not worth it and stop short of a genuine effort). 

What this means is that leadership has to be truly obsessed with clients and willing to apply unconventional method to serve them better, then technology is just nothing but a very natural enabler.

TFAGeeksCorporate Treasurers and Finance folks are savvy and shrewd, what is your persuasive edge that they will collaborate with SC Ventures than other fintechs or banks?

Alex: Empathy. We know how hard it is. We are highly cognizant of the fact that resources are scarce. And that nobody says thank you if you took a risk but you may well be blamed for the downside. 

Yet objectives are ever more daunting, and at the same time, technology looks capable of disrupting not just banks but also the entire treasury space. 

So we can work on this together: manage the downside but also invent the future because we will marry the right tools with an almost emotional understanding of what it feels like to be a corporate treasurer today – and together rewire the DNA in treasury as well! 

TFAGeeksIn three words, how would you describe your journey at SC Ventures?

Alex: Inspiring, challenging, hopeful.

I’ve had incredible highs from the many conversations, projects, ideas, human interactions with clients, Fintechs and other stakeholders – at the same time frustrations associated with setting-up something that doesn’t exist yet and defining a team, a governance within the bank, and the overall ability to deliver. 

The former gives me the inspiration to deal with the latter.  I was almost overwhelmed by the amount of energy on the back of SC Ventures, the fact is that we have created a lot of hope – with both our clients and within the bank – disappointment is just not an option.


Alex Manson at KL Tech Talk

23 March 2018[streamerType]=auto

Interview with Alex Manson at M2020 Asia

13 March 2018

Establishing a new business unit to lead digital innovation and invest in fintechs

17 January 2018

Standard Chartered has established a new business unit, SC Ventures, to lead digital innovation across the Group, invest in fintechs and other start-up companies, promote rapid testing and implementation of new business models.

SC Ventures will be led by Alex Manson, most recently Global Head of Transaction Banking, and will work with businesses and functions across the Group in three key areas:

  • Catalysts: Internal consultants will help the rest of the Group in problem-solving and spreading innovation best practices and client-centric design. The eXellerator innovation lab will be part of this group.
  • Investments: A professional investment unit to manage the Group’s minority investments in fintech companies and to seek further investments in promising technologies. The Bank has previously invested in Ripple, a leading distributed ledger company to co-develop commercially viable applications for global trade and payments and Paxata, a leading enterprise information management company.
  • Ventures: The Venture unit will sponsor and oversee new disruptive technology ventures that are wholly or partially owned by Standard Chartered. It will seek projects that amplify the bank’s core strengths or where the bank can support a venture in a strategic way.

Alex will report to Michael Gorriz, Group Chief Information Officer, effective 1 March 2018 and will be based in Singapore.

Michael Gorriz Group Chief Information Officer of Standard Chartered said: “As new technology continues to play an ever more important role in banking, there is a huge opportunity for us to promote more innovation, and at the same time develop and deliver digital solutions that work for our clients and for us.”

Alex Manson, Global Head of SC Ventures, said: “In a world otherwise full of technical solutions looking for problems, at Standard Chartered we start with human beings. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to facilitate and catalyse a culture of innovation, working with our clients and colleagues to invent the banking of tomorrow.”

Under Alex Manson’s leadership, the bank has built a differentiated Transaction Banking business with a strong suite of market-leading products across trade, cash and securities services. He has also been responsible for the SC Innovate platform for employee-driven innovations and numerous proofs of concepts in collaboration with fintech companies, in areas such as Distributed Ledger Technology, data analytics and mobile platforms.

Technology is at the heart of Standard Chartered’s strategy - driving efficiencies, increasing automation, introducing global platforms, reducing manual errors and strengthening how it combats financial crime. In 2015, it announced it was investing about USD3 billion over three years in technology and systems.

For further information please contact:
Rachel Lin,
Head, ITO Communications, Support Functions Communications,
+65 6596 4330