Creating a B2B digital ecosystem with our customers

Published: 09 November 2020

Brian TH Li, Director of Innovation and Growth, HSBC Business Banking, recalls how working closely with customers was a key factor in developing a new collaborative knowledge-sharing platform.

VisionGo is a collaborative B2B digital ecosystem developed by HSBC for small to medium enterprises (SMEs), startups and prospective entrepreneurs in Hong Kong to connect and access practical tips on anything related to their business.

Machine Learning is used to offer personalised professional insights and networking opportunities through an AI-enhanced interface, along with interactive features to help with networking, adopting new ways of working, generating leads and collaborating with other businesses.

As a technologist, one of the really interesting things about VisionGo's development was how we co-created it with our customers and 'the business' - the HSBC colleagues who directly face off to them.

It all began with a hackathon

Back in 2018 we ran a hackathon with one of our major IT partners that included customers to brainstorm what additional value we might be able to provide them.

Three themes stood out.
1. Could we leverage one of HSBC's most valuable assets, our business network, to create an ecosystem for SMEs to share and exchange information and connect with each other?
2. How could we bring in partners with the knowledge and know-how to support their information needs?
3. How could we enable customers to benefit from this network?

These high-level concepts were important in the latter phase of our proposition design. So we began months of additional research and validation, inviting hundreds of customers to provide feedback on what they expected, what would motivate them to use it and how to make the entire ecosystem valuable. This included hands-on testing with prototypes to see how customers reacted and distilling that into creating a Minimum Viable Product.

Being wrong isn't wrong; it's learning

It wasn't always smooth, there were hiccups, uncertainties and showstoppers. Some ideas were abandoned because, to be honest, we tried to include everyone's opinions which made them unworkable and there were times when fundamental hypotheses turned out to be wrong.

For example, lots of people internally and externally wanted 'Connectivity.' So we built features like those found on dating apps to link users to access and connect to each other's profiles before starting to build and test prototypes.

But when we asked for feedback on these features there were some firm challenges: "The profile doesn't have enough substance to mean anything." And, "I need to have more profiles to find this useful." As well as, "Have you vetted the information and validated it?" Or, "I don't believe a business relationship can be built on a digital platform."

This feedback taught us that connectivity isn't created through a set of features but instead it is an outcome of a successful business model. We realised more work was needed around the platform's scale and we needed a lot more data points to convince people they could use it to connect.

Re-directing focus

So we re-directed our focus toward building a knowledge and information exchange as the starting point, with the clear aim of supporting connectivity in the longer-term.

We also learned that being an 'intrapreneur' in a big organisation like HSBC requires the same persistence and dedication as an entrepreneur working outside it. When faced with funding and resource challenges we prioritised ruthlessly and adjusted to the ambiguities of the market outlook.

The results have been good. Since VisionGo's beta-launch in April of this year, and its formal unveiling in September, we've attracted more than 10,000 members, connected 5,000 participants to 400 webinars and registered 600,000 page views to our library of more than 1,500 articles.

Closer to home, our colleagues, in particular customer relationship managers, have used VisionGo as a platform on which to host exclusive events for clients that have generated business leads.

The impact of digitisation, challenger banks and technology's ability to supersede traditional concepts of customer service has made us rethink what we provide to the people and businesses who bank with us.

Banks, like any large institution, can no longer rely only on their size or control of certain assets to prove their value. They need to demonstrate how they can help other players in the ecosystem to be successful to differentiate themselves against the competition.

VisionGo is an example of how, by going 'beyond banking', HSBC can create value for our customers, and strengthen our future competitiveness.

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