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How to get EY to innovate? No less than 75 EY people reckoned they had ideas to share and joined the Innovate EY pilot project. EY co-initiator Broos Bakens and his colleagues designed a program to enable the most entrepreneurial teams to flesh out their ideas. Today, he’s joined by Wout Bobbink and Lars Vereijken of the Finance Navigator team and by Robin Stam of Questor. Elodie Laurent, of MM@EY and tEYnder, joins the round-table meeting on Skype.

“Our world and our business models are poised for massive change.
And let’s not forget that EY is already heavily into startups and has created multiple accelerators, including HighTechXL,” says Broos Bakens. He’s explaining the big idea underpinning Innovate EY, which invites all EY employees to put forward their own ideas “for new products or services, or to improve the way we do things at the company.”

The program breaks down into four stages, Bakens notes: “The initial phase of ideation is all about conceiving or generating ideas, and building a team. At this point we don’t select on ideas, but on people – their commitment, entrepreneurial spirit and mind-set. The concept phase is about expanding and enriching, and scoping out any demand. This is followed by the battle of innovation: we select the concepts most likely to be successful either within or outside our own organization. This battle threw up five teams: two promoting externally oriented ideas, three for in-house improvement. We snapped up the external teams and put them at HighTech XL for four months.”

Better grasp of finance
Lars Vereijken and Wout Bobbink joined forces with Alex Matthiessen to develop the Finance Navigator, as they’d noticed how many start-ups and scale-ups were struggling with the financial side of their business.

“They’re finding it an uphill struggle to manage their cash and create financial models,” Vereijken explains. “And so it’s tough for them to make that link with investors. Entrepreneurs just want to run their business and don’t have the time or money to put finance experts in place.”

The Finance Navigator should change all that. “It’s an online platform to help start-ups and scale-ups generate financial projections easily,” Vereijken says. “It generates clear overviews and KPIs important to them – a bit like an online CFO, in fact. It’s also a way to compare their own business with other start-ups and arrive at a validated financial model to put to investors.”

And there’s help on this score too from the EY platform creators, as Bobbink points out: “We put them in touch with a pool of investors on our platform. This doesn’t just increase their chances of a match – investors get to see many more start-ups: start-ups and investors can exchange data and, once invested in a start-up, investors can download monthly management reports.

Although both sides clearly stand to gain, Vereijken is quick to add that

“It’s a learning tool first and foremost a way for start-ups to better understand their own numbers. That’s its key strength.”
Working more efficiently at EY
Elodie Laurent and her team are on a mission to help improve EY’s own internal organization: we all recognized the huge waste of time involved with planning meetings. Together with my team, we tried to really grasp the origin, symptoms and potential solutions for this problem. Our concept starts off with an awareness campaign to get people to open their calendars. Next, we’ll be scouring for techniques to make the best possible use of Outlook, and the final aim is to identify how we can make better use of where staff actually is. Don’t forget, we’re spread out across 14 locations, spend time at our clients’ offices and have embraced new ways of working including working from home.

Technology should help us become much more efficient in terms of the kilometers we’re travelling and the time spent in our cars."
The second project, called tEYnder, also promises to make work at EY more efficient, Laurent and her team suggest: “It’s all about matching consultants and projects better. I’ve noticed that we don’t do much with our consultants’ specific competences and preferences when putting them on projects, that we mostly consider availability and planning. We’d like to see consultants take up projects outside their subservice lines more often, or go for projects that better reflect their ambitions. That’s something we want to facilitate.”

Automated analyses
Team Questor is founded by Robin Stam, Robert Hoek and Dominic Parewijck, colleagues at Financial Service Risk Management. “We work for banks, pension funds, insurers and asset managers – The initial focus of Questor is on banks,” Stam tells us.

“Since the financial crisis, banks have been overwhelmed by rafts of regulation of such scope and complexity that it is hard to keep up with it. Every new regulation requires them to report to the central bank, and just one of these reports can run over 1,000 pages of highly detailed financial information. And because they have to deliver so quickly, there’s simply no time to step back and evaluate whether reports have been completed accurately and fully while submitted on time.”

Questor is an online platform to which banks can upload their – standardized – reports. “We apply our knowledge of regulations, the market and the specific clients to carry out fully automated analyses,” Stam tells us. “The platform is easy to scale up, as data input is the same across the European Union. All EU-based banks could use it.” “At precisely those moments when time is their greatest adversary, banks will have quick and easy access to EY’s vast knowledge,” Stam says. “Our platform helps them to receive feedback quickly which allows them to improve their reports before sending them off to the regulators.”

Understanding start-up entrepreneurs better
For Wout Bobbink, joining Innovate EY was the next logical step: “I’d done my internship at HighTechXL, as I’m really keen on innovation. And this idea is a great match with the FAAS department we’re part of.

In fact, being given the leeway to do this was one of the main reasons I decided to join EY. Maybe we could have pulled it off outside the Innovate EY program, but I’m sure it would have been a lot trickier. We would have had to do it alongside many other tasks and would have had no help or guidance.”
It’s the entrepreneurial side of the project that the team finds compelling, Bobbink observes: “It fits in with what we do at EY: start-ups, entrepreneurship – we get so much more insight into what makes start-up entrepreneurs tick.” Vereijken adds that the project appeals to his own entrepreneurial spirit: “EY really gives us the freedom to build something new, something I hope will have global impact. Our aim is to roll out the project across our worldwide operations, and it will be so cool if we can pull it off!”

“Working with start-ups is instantly rewarding and results are quick to show,” says Vereijken, who loves helping companies grow and advising them on how to do just that. Stam adds: “And if EY wants to achieve real growth, we don’t just need people, we also need technology.”

For Laurent, Innovate EY is a unique opportunity to find out whether we can create change from a vision, a broad scope: “Normally, our search for a solution would start with a problem; this time it’s about a structural approach to achieving lasting change. I think we need to create an innovation map at EY. Whenever someone has an idea, we could guide them, advise on the requirements they’d need to meet, who to talk to, how to go about making it a reality.”

The next step: taking it to market
In September, the teams will present their ideas to the EY workforce and other stakeholders. “Which implies we’ve come to the end of this phase of the program,” Vereijken notes. “It’ll require a real-life budget to actually roll out our plans and/or take the product to market. Our aim is to build such a compelling business case that EY will actually act on it.

We’d normally build first and then see if there’s a demand, but this time it’s the other way around: first we scope out demand, then we start building precisely what people require. We’re learning an invaluable method right here and now. And don’t forget that we’re a start-up ourselves now: it’s opened our eyes to aspects we can use in advising other start-ups. We’re encountering hurdles similar to the ones they come up against – and this learning aspect is key.”

What’s the project teaching EY?
“The times are changing and we have to move with them,” Bobbink says. “At the very least, I hope that the project encourages awareness.” Stam reckons Innovate EY should create a solid base for generating ideas:

“At this point, many ideas never get off the ground. If we can demonstrate that it really is possible to achieve, to be successful, then the program has worked. We’re showing that a structured approach doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot more time and money and that it encourages people to really go out on a limb.”
“If you’d asked me four to five years ago whether a program such as this was possible at EY, I’d have said no,” Bakens observes. “As it turns out, though, a great deal is possible. And I think EY is now also more aware of just how much talent we have on board – people who are hugely skilled at their jobs and happen to also be great entrepreneurs. Remember, we only conducted three ideation sessions for this pilot and those resulted in no less than 26 teams!” Laurent adds: “And whether those ideas succeed or not, EY also stands to learn. Not that I think it will fail, but if it did we’d at least know what to change in order to create a robust innovation platform.”

What will their legacy be?
Most of all, Bakens hopes the program will secure EY’s future by becoming a more entrepreneurial organization that continuously develops new business models, at a global scale. Laurent is mainly driven by combating waste, and by

“taking an idea to create a better as well as more interesting work environment.”
Bobbink is hoping that their Finance Navigator will give companies that first push or that little bit extra they need before a step-change. “I would be proud to leave a fresh, innovative service offering,” he says. And Vereijken adds:

“I hope we’ll contribute to EY’s image as the firm to turn to for start-ups – that would be brilliant.”
Stam concludes: “All those new regulations and reporting facing banks really serve just a single purpose: a more stable financial sector. We may be just a small cog in the machine, but I believe we can make a very valuable contribution. Plus which, I hope we’ll be able to inspire more people to show entrepreneurship at EY – we now have the opportunity to prove that it works.”