Q&A with Bank Hapoalim CEO Zion Kenan

Bank Hapoalim has put great emphasis on innovation.

A Bank Hapoalim branch in Tel Aviv (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Bank Hapoalim branch in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It seems like Bank Hapoalim has been focusing lately on technology and innovation. What is the rationale behind this change? Banks the world over – including Bank Hapoalim– have been consumers of technology for many years. Banks were among the first “civilian” customers in the computer industry when they developed ATMs.
In recent years, Bank Hapoalim has put great emphasis on innovation, executing on a strategic plan to provide cutting-edge services to the high-tech industry and developing innovative technologies that directly impact the financial sector and benefit our customers every day.
Isn’t Bank Hapoalim’s new strategy inconsistent with the natural tendency of banks to act conservatively?
Our innovation is focused on how we serve clients – providing services that cater to the needs of the fast-evolving high-tech sector and innovating online and mobile banking for our customers – not in how we manage money. As the largest bank in Israel, we are able to leverage our size and expertise to foster innovation both within the Bank and by supporting an ecosystem of innovation, as we did in the BankApp competition.
The world is changing faster than we could have imagined even ten years ago.
Bank Hapoalim is committed to offering its customers the best, most advanced banking services. In this regard, innovation is not only consistent with our mission, it is a growing imperative in a fast-changing world.
How did you come up with the idea for the BankApp competition which recently ended? Israel is known as Startup Nation for good reason – this country has an incredible concentration of talented developers and entrepreneurs, and the Bank has made a strategic decision to leverage this world class innovation with a focus on the Financial Technology (FinTech) sector, which directly benefits our customers and the industry overall.
Two years ago, we introduced the FinTech initiative, where we collaborate with entrepreneurs in the high-tech sector. As part of the FinTech initiative, Bank Hapoalim offers participants use of our technological infrastructure, which is one of the most advanced in the world.
When Avi Kochva, CIO and Member of the management board and his team approached me with the idea of an app competition, I was intrigued by its potential.
The results – over 1000 participants and amazing creativity and innovation - far exceeded all of our expectations.
What do you personally think is the most exciting aspect of the BankApp competition?
The BankApp competition was a great demonstration for our two-fold commitment: To be the leading bank in Israel’s high-tech sector, which we see as the most important growth engine in Israel’s economy, while at the same time encouraging the development of innovative technologies in the banking and finance sector.
To me, the most exciting element of the competition was seeing “The Wisdom of Crowds” in action. This idea, tapping into the knowledge, creativity and fresh perspective of individuals to produce great outcomes, is gaining momentum throughout the world.
Seeing this concept in action in the BankApp competition was extremely powerful.
Why did you give competition participants access to Bank Hapoalim’s database? Weren’t you concerned about exposing bank secrets?
Allowing participants access to our database was perhaps the most important element of the competition and the key to its success. This was the first time in Israel – and I’ve been told maybe in the world – that app developers were given access to such a large database.
Of course, participants were not given access to any personal data. This was a good challenge for our data security team, since they had to figure out a system that would filter out personal details. The competition was announced only after rigorous work by our team that guaranteed complete information privacy. Of course, we closely monitored all the data throughout the competition.
Did you personally follow the course of the competition?
Of course. For a banker, this is pretty exciting stuff! It was exciting to see the final products and I must commend the judges for their great work – they had so many incredible options. BzBuzz was truly a winner among winners.