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InfoQ Homepage News Building a Startup within a Bank - Q&A with Peterjan van Nieuwenhuizen

Building a Startup within a Bank - Q&A with Peterjan van Nieuwenhuizen

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Peterjan van Nieuwenhuizen serves as head of smart digital banking at BTPN in Indonesia.  At the upcoming Agile Indonesia conference he will talk about the cultural changes needed to create a startup mentality inside a traditional bank, the challenges and opportunities this creates and what's needed to make it real.

He joined BTPN in 2015 to create "Jenius". Since its launch, Jenius has changed the banking world of Indonesia; most other banks are following the Jenius digital banking app.

He spoke to InfoQ about his experiences.

InfoQ: Peterjan, could you please tell us a bit more about yourself?

Peterjan van Nieuwenhuizen: Well, I grew up in the Netherlands and England, spending a lot of time playing around with computers, so there was an early interest in technology.  After reading both computer science and mathematics at university I changed direction a bit though, and spent most of my time in financial services.  Then, when the current wave of fintech and digital banking gathered pace a few years ago, I had an opportunity to combine my two interests.  Outside of work I enjoy travel, reading and classical music.

InfoQ: How was the idea of Jenius born and how did the product start?

van Nieuwenhuizen: BTPN had never really been active in "retail transaction banking", but wanted to explore the opportunity to strengthen the funding side of its business.  Building a brick-and-mortar bank from scratch was not really an option, and in combination with digital really taking off in Indonesia, the idea for Jenius was born.  When I joined in 2015, the first thing we did was a lot of market and customer research to understand what people are really looking for and interested in, and what their struggles with current financial services are.  That research lay at the basis of the design of every aspect of Jenius.

InfoQ: BTPN was not into consumer banking before Jenius. What are some of the biggest challenges you faced moving such a large institution to digital consumer banking?

van Nieuwenhuizen: We realised from the beginning that we needed a rather different team and culture to build and run Jenius than more traditional areas in the bank. There was strong support for this from across the board of management, with plenty of space given to build a "startup within a bank."  Perhaps one of the biggest challenges was to attract people from outside banking and convince them Jenius is a fun and exciting place to work.  Building a very different working environment, HR policies, dress code, etc., etc. was key.  We now have an exhilarating mix of people: some bankers, mostly non-bankers; many techies, but also some people who are mildly technologically challenged; young and young-at-heart, and so on.  Another challenge was of course to build an agile IT environment on top of a more traditional banking IT set-up.

InfoQ: What I find inspiring about BTPN is that it looks so modern and innovative. The bank seems to have a model in which it spins off new banking products as separate enterprises. Jenius is an example of that and so is BTPN Syariah (a micro finance institute). What do you see as the basis of that innovation and special culture?

van Nieuwenhuizen: Whew, that is a difficult one to answer.  I think it goes back to people and culture.  Starting with the latter: the ethos in BTPN is perhaps best described as "doing well by doing good".  The bank (which really means its employees) are genuinely trying to make a positive difference in Indonesia, to help "make a difference in the lives of millions", as our vision has it.  I think that ethos cultivates the open-mindedness that leads to the bank being willing to branch out into uncharted territory, to innovate, to do new things or to do existing things differently.  As long as it helps contribute to our goal of doing well by doing good, of changing Indonesia for the better.  Secondly, the people themselves.  Right from the board of management down, we have an intrinsically open-minded, kind, and often passionate group of people, who really care, and who simply want to do what it takes to have the positive impact we are aiming for.  Many of our staff have been involved in multiple new business ventures, and some like it so much they don't really enjoy running a business as much as building a new one.

InfoQ: Jenius is seen by the rest of the bank (and also outside) as the role model for agility. How did you get started with agile in Jenius?

van Nieuwenhuizen: You are very kind to say so.  We actually feel we still have a lot to learn, including from many players in Indonesia.  In many ways we simply got started because we did not feel we had much choice: if you offer consumers an app to manage their finances, do their payments, etc., you will have to add and adjust features very regularly; and waterfall development (or similar methodologies) simply do not realistically allow you to release meaningful updates to such an app every 4-6 weeks.  So we began asking questions, learning from agile practitioners both in Indonesia and abroad.

InfoQ: How did agile change over the last two years in Jenius (and bank wide)?

van Nieuwenhuizen: I should mention three big changes.  Firstly, we increasingly moved our developers in-house and co-located with the business; originally we did most of our development offshore, managed by a vendor.  Secondly, we built a real DevOps tool chain, while originally we did (or perhaps tried to do) agile with still a lot of manual effort for e.g. deployment and testing, which we have now automated to a great extent.  Thirdly, looking more at BTPN bank-wide, we started using agile in more and more areas in the bank, not just in Jenius.

InfoQ: You have worked across many countries. How would you describe the "state of digital transformation" in Indonesia?

van Nieuwenhuizen: It's an interesting mix.  On the one hand, consumers are more digitally savvy than in a great many countries, and mobile-first in a way that is quite exceptional (e.g., in most western countries Internet access through laptops is still much more common, while more than 60% of Indonesians go online primarily or exclusively through smartphones).  Over the past few years a really exciting tech startup scene has developed, and foreign players have found fertile ground in Indonesia as well.  On the other hand, I hear a lot of people (both in larger, more established companies and in start-ups) complaining about the difficulty of finding people with the right knowledge and experience (be it in agile, (big) data analytics, digital marketing, etc.).  It is probably fair to say that (even) more needs to be done to stimulate the necessary talent pool, (venture capital) funding for start-ups, and the like to help "digital Indonesia" really live up to its potential.

InfoQ: It seems that agile is becoming a popular phenomenon in Indonesia with most companies starting only this year. How do you see the "state of agile" in Indonesia? And what can we do to spread agility across the 17.000 islands?

van Nieuwenhuizen: Of course there are plenty of (especially small) players with a pretty advanced agile set-up.  However, looking at the bigger picture, in particular also including larger, established companies, I would say we are only at the early stages and still have quite a long way to go.  I do feel there is much more awareness of agile (what it is, why it matters, why it is needed) than even a year ago, but true adoption is still far away in most IT shops.  I believe there are various things that need to be done to "spread agile" across the country.  Firstly, there is still a lot to do in building a strong "agile talent pool", with sufficient agile practitioners available across skill sets such as scrum masters, product owners, tech leads and developers.  That also requires experience with DevOps tools (such as GitLab, Jenkins, Appium, Selenium, and so on, and so forth) and in some cases improvements in infrastructure to make the use of cloud solutions for tools like that more manageable.  Secondly, considerable effort will have to go into explaining agile to the "business side": (senior) managers will have to understand what agile is, why it matters, why their business may need it, how it really works/what it really takes, etc.


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