Vid Hribar: Building Value through Blockchain and Partnerships in the Banking Industry

Vid Hribar
Vid Hribar

The rise of digital banking isn’t just reshaping individual financial interactionsit’s also revolutionizing how businesses collaborate and compete. This digital upheaval acts as a powerful catalyst, propelling strategic partnerships and ecosystems forward. Amidst this transformative era, individuals like Vid Hribar emerge as pioneers, leading the charge with innovative strategies in the digital banking sphere.

Vid’s journey into the realm of digital banking traces back to his college days, a time when his interest in banking transcended the confines of his law studies. Exploring the intersection of law and finance, Vid delved into the vibrant world of fintech, eager to uncover the new horizons it offered. His journey took a decisive turn during an internship at a regional bank, where he embarked on a dynamic rotation through various departments each month for a year. This immersive experience proved invaluable, providing Vid with a multifaceted understanding of banking operations and fostering vital connections across different domains.

Such diverse exposure stands as a cornerstone in Vid’s approach, recognizing the pressing need for seamless customer experiences in the digital age. With customers increasingly drawing parallels between banking services and those offered by tech giants like Amazon or Netflix, Vid understands the imperative of delivering an end-to-end journey that exceeds expectations. This entails collaborative efforts with colleagues from diverse areas within the bank, ensuring a cohesive and customer-centric approach to digital banking solutions.

Vid, a member of the Blockchain Hub (Strategic Partnerships & Ecosystems department) at Raiffeisen Bank International AG embodies a commitment to innovation and collaboration in the pursuit of elevating the digital banking experience.

Lessons Learned

When Vid joined the Blockchain Hub, the aim was clearto drive change and make a meaningful impact. “I wanted to introduce various blockchain applications to transform the bank,” Vid recalls. But the journey wasn’t without its hurdles, teaching valuable lessons along the way.

One such lesson came during the NFT craze. “Many suggested exploring NFTs without a clear idea of what we could do,” Vid explains. Undeterred, they embarked on a research project with tech-savvy students. “We identified potential areas, but none showed sustainable business potential upon closer examination.” This experience underscored the importance of a well-thought-out approach amidst industry hype.

Another lesson learned was about timing. “Sometimes you’re just a bit ahead of the curve,” Vid reflects. Decentralized Finance (DeFi) holds immense promise, but it’s still early days in terms of technology, regulation and adoption. While DeFi could revolutionize traditional banking, acknowledging that it will take time to fully develop is crucial. These lessons have not only shaped Vid’s approach but also the trajectory of blockchain initiatives at the bank.

Tech Trend Radar

In Vid’s current role, driving innovation and digital transformation in the banking sector is paramount within the Group Strategy and Innovation department. “We initiated a Tech Trend Radar a few years ago to identify the most relevant technology trends for our banking group annually,” Vid explains. With a plethora of trends, they prioritize and assess only the top ones. These chosen trends become focal points for seeking experimentation opportunities and establishing partnerships with startups.

Collaboration plays a pivotal role in this process, with experiments conducted alongside relevant stakeholders such as business lines, compliance and IT colleagues. “Our ultimate objective is to empower our colleagues to experiment in relevant areas,” Vid emphasizes. As products mature, the aim is to seamlessly integrate them into business lines ensuring a smooth transition and implementation of innovative solutions. This systematic and collaborative approach aligns with the overarching strategy to remain at the forefront of technological innovation in the banking sector.

The Power of Sharing

Vid asserts that cultivating a culture of continuous learning and innovation in the dynamic digital banking landscape is vital. “Personally, my curiosity and eagerness to learn more drive this culture,” Vid continues, emphasizing the importance of extending interests beyond the financial industry to recognize the interconnectedness of various domains.

To foster continuous learning, it’s also important to share this curiosity and innovative mindset. Recently, Vid served as a coach in an Innovation School program for Raiffeisen Bank International’s employees. “During this experience, I had the opportunity to pass on my insights and motivation to my colleagues,” Vid shares proudly. Vid trusts them to further propagate this mindset within their group contributing to the development of an innovative culture that allows them to stay ahead in the rapidly changing landscape of digital banking.

Collaborative Innovation

Vid stresses the early involvement of colleagues in new projects as essential, allowing them to shape the direction and contribute to successful outcomes. Balancing innovation and digitalization with security and regulatory compliance is crucial in banking. “Each project undergoes strict checks to ensure both security and compliance,” Vid emphasizes, highlighting the importance of these measures in building and maintaining customer trust, a key strength for banks compared to fintech companies.

Despite the initial challenges, these requirements are essential for the long term. “We took considerable time to assemble a team with the right expertise from various areas,” Vid explains. Initially, there were discussions explaining and clarifying misconceptions, but over time, the dialogue shifted from ‘there is no way’ to a more collaborative approach like ‘let’s find a way together,’ Vid elaborates.

Ahead of the Curve

Customer-centricity is a key aspect of our approach to digital banking in my department,” Vid explains. “We deal with new technologies by identifying, prioritizing, evaluating them, and providing recommendations. When we come across interesting use cases, we conduct pilot projects to test our ideas,” Vid adds while elaborating.

Despite the focus on different technologies, Vid has learned the importance of not taking a technology-first approach, the hard way as he admits. “Initially, we spent a lot of time explaining technical aspects like blockchain. However, we shifted our approach to be more customer-centric, addressing customer pain points first and then exploring various technology solutions,” Vid reflects. This approach has proven more successful for them.

However, decision-making isn’t black and white. “While customer-centricity guides us, we also consider strategic decisions. For example, if we believe banks should have the future-ready infrastructure, we may start building it even if the current customer demand doesn’t justify the initial investment,” Vid explains. Balancing customer needs with strategic considerations is crucial for decision-making.

Tomorrow’s Banking Experience

Utilizing emerging technologies like AI and blockchain to elevate the digital banking experience is a strategic journey that Vid and his team navigate with a thoughtful approach. Typically, new technologies begin with high expectations, often followed by a reality check leading to more practical applications and integration, as illustrated by the Gartner hype cycle. “It’s imperative for us to understand these dynamics, avoiding impulsive adoption and instead determining the right timing for experimentation and implementation,” Vid emphasizes.

Our exploration of blockchain started over five years ago, evolving from knowledge-sharing and experimentation to a more mature phase,” Vid recalls. “Currently, we have a well-defined blockchain strategy and concrete product ideas showcasing substantial progress in our approach,” Vid adds.

Regarding AI, it has already found its place in many processes within the bank. However, the advent of ChatGPT and generative AI provided a significant boost. Recognizing the heightened interest from stakeholders, they initiated a strategy analysis which was well-received. This became the catalyst for various projects implementing generative AI throughout the bank.

Vid points out, importantly, it’s crucial to understand that AI and blockchain are not in competitionrather, they address different challenges and are poised to coexist in the future. Blockchain primarily revolves around data storage and management, while AI, particularly generative AI plays a pivotal role in enhancing the overall user experience, exemplifying a harmonious integration of diverse technological solutions in the digital banking landscape.

Building Ecosystems

In Vid’s role, navigating the competitive landscape involves staying informed about industry developments and keeping a close eye on the strategies employed by other banks and competitors. However, the approach is somewhat distinct when it comes to blockchain. Given its decentralized nature, the addition of more participants, including other banks, enhances the overall value of the network. “Therefore, we adopt a unique perspective, focusing on building ecosystems, as reflected in the name of our department,” Vid concludes, highlighting steering through the competition in the sector and maintaining sustained success.