After years of working together, we finally found time for a proper sit-down with Jannis Riesz, VP at Wirecard Labs, to recap our longstanding collaboration. Join us for an in-depth chat on what goes on behind-the-scenes at Wirecard Labs, how YND supports their innovation and what’s on the schedule (and cards) for Wirecard in the near to mid-future.
YND: Hi, Jannis. Thanks a lot for taking the time and welcoming us to your Berlin office. As VP at Wirecard Labs, you’re in the perfect position to give us a quick intro on Wirecard Labs. What is your company all about?
Jannis: Sure, I’d be happy to! Back in 2018, we launched Wirecard Labs with just three people – and the idea to create a structured, measurable process to drive innovation at Wirecard. Early on, we mostly focussed on using workshops and keynotes to bring innovative thinking into the organisation. We also crowdsourced ideas from the workforce and developed initial showcases and prototypes. But the actual innovation process dates all the way back to 2013 and our very first prototypes in the field of mobile wallets that we developed within Wirecard Mobile Services Unit.
Over the next few years, our mobile services product division expanded quickly to a team of 100. When the board decided to integrate mobile services into the core of Wirecard, this allowed us to launch a standalone innovation department.
YND: So, how large is your team today? And how have your tasks and goals changed over the past two years?
Jannis: Right now, there are eleven of us. Three of us are focused on prototyping, so let’s take a closer look at some of our initiatives related to the future of commerce.
For example, there’s our 2018 Butik* initiative for the retail sector: it addresses the challenges of smart vending and later became a product used by the food service HelloFresh.
For POS lending, our in-store lending prototype can make entirely digital loan decisions in just 180 seconds. We successfully handed this validated concept to our product division in 2019.
Our latest initiative, on the value of data, finds ways beyond the core to engage with our existing and new merchants. All of these projects were developed and completed together with YND.
More recently, we started to get the product and sales teams more involved in the prototype and showcase creation process. But whatever we do: in the end, each project has to provide measurable strategic or financial value to the company.
YND: Why is it so important to have measurable results? And how do prototypes help with this?
Jannis: When it comes down to it, we want to create innovative products that can contribute to our topline revenue. At the same time, our lab explores issues and product ideas that might still be 2-3 years away from actual market readiness (like unmanned vending). So, we can use these concepts, prototypes and technical MVP to get a great grasp of which product ideas will most likely add and create value for the company in the future. And while getting real-world feedback from media and customers might not be 100 % statistically significant, they are absolutely essential in the validation process.
If a project does not get the expected feedback, we can stop it much earlier in the development process than before, i. e. if we did this with the large product units.
YND: How do you generate new ideas? Do you have a process in place?
Jannis: We have several ways of exploring new ideas. For example, we conducted a large staff survey with about 5,500 employees. Among other things, we asked them what might be the next big thing in payments? We took the time for a thorough look at all the ideas and identified our top one hundred suggestions. Then, we kept narrowing it down to thirty, ten and, eventually, the final three ideas. These were presented to the CEO. The winner will get the chance to develop their idea, including an MVP and funds for future research. This is our approach for tackling large, encompassing ideas. For smaller topics, at the division level, we set up ideation campaigns through technical platforms. Last year, we carried out six of these and plan to double their number this year. This approach lets us focus on more specific questions like: which server configuration could boost my team’s performance?
Last, but not least, we run a Future of Payment initiative. Here, we ask young people with fresh and bold ideas how payments might work in the future. The most frequently given answers included sustainability and pay-with-data. This is extremely interesting and gives us a great opportunity to spot future trends.
All in all, we conducted two global innovation campaigns, six product ideation campaigns, multiple user surveys and one large research project.
YND: While Wirecard is mostly based in Munich, you yourself work from Berlin. What are the benefits of this setup?
Jannis: There are several advantages to this. First of all, we extend our network by a Berlin base. Many of our ecosystem partners, like VISA, are here, which is great for joint events and workshops. Fintech, in general, is very strong in Berlin, so the city offers better potential for innovation-centred cooperations than Munich.
I also think it’s very important to leave the mother ship, at least occasionally, to get new ideas and input and to stop seeing everything through the ‘payment lens’ all the time. Being in Berlin certainly helps, but the right balance is equally important.
Since we are a global company, travelling to other continents gave me plenty of new input before Covid-19 at least.
Yet it’s also important to not lose the connection to the hub, so you don’t get side-tracked by product ideas that take you in the wrong direction and don’t contribute to the overall company goals.
YND: Where do you see the current key trends and the next major innovations in payment?
Jannis: I can give you a short summary of what’s important to us in 2020. In 2019, we worked a lot with future-of-retail companies.
And while our focus has always been retail, we actually have quite a few different departments. So, we decided to put our 2020 focus on new mobility, data-as-a-service and a more sustainable digital future. In value of data, we are really gaining traction, so we want to pay that some attention as well.
YND: When developing new concepts, prototypes and MVPs, what are the main benefits of working with a company like YND vs. your internal product teams?
Jannis: The roadmap and ticket backlog of our internal teams are quite large, meaning that new, unproven ideas have a hard time making it all the way up the list of priorities.
With YND, I can be sure that a) the human aspect is covered because one should never underestimate the interpersonal factors in a project team, b) YND has a thorough understanding of what we at Wirecard Labs are doing, where we come from and where we want to go, and c) that the quality and expertise are always so high that I never feel like I am dealing with an agency, but rather like I am working with my own internal Wirecard team.
We only cooperate with a few external contractors, but those collaborations have been going for a long time. To me, this is essential for a good working relationship. And such a long collaboration is also proof of YND’s sustained outstanding performance – because, to be honest, things don’t really get more complicated than Wirecard.
YND: How does Wirecard support its customers in times of Covid-19?
Jannis: This is a very challenging time for all of us. Social responsibility and our customers’ success is of the utmost importance to us. With this in mind, and together with Futur/io, Wirecard has launched a covid-19 initiative for customers who want to implement digital solutions quickly. As part of this initiative, we have set up an “Innovation for Now” platform that gives merchants one-stop access to products and services by German-based digital companies. Wirecard has also developed a support package designed to help shops continue their trade while their physical location is closed to the public. The pay-by-link feature lets them receive payments effortlessly. We hope that these innovations will help affected businesses make it through or even thrive in these difficult times.
YND: Thanks so much for this interview, Jannis! We are definitely looking forward to the next round of projects – and successful years – with you and the team.
Jannis: Thanks, me too!
*Future of mobility - rinspeed: The Butik showcase is an IoT-based smart vending machine that combines all technologies required for an unmanned shopping experience: facial recognition, automatic basket creation and invisible checkout.