BIL Challenge: 94 Business Ideas In A Single Week

Ruth Kremer, Head of Target Operating Model (TOM) at Banque Internationale à Luxembourg (BIL) (Photo © PANCAKE ! photographie)

When BIL Challenge creator Ruth Kremer first suggested the idea for a business pitching contest to the group in 2021, she had little idea the project would attract so much interest.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I have been doing business transformation and change management in a larger sense all my professional life, from helping a city council develop a customer service strategy, integrating a company into another after its acquisition, Business Process outsourcing, ie. offshoring of services, reducing the cost base of major business units to driving standardisation and rigorous delivery of projects. Generally speaking, I work on complex projects which involve a lot of different areas of a businesss, diverse stakeholders and interests. My role in these major transformations has been that of a conductor, the person who makes every part of the orchestra work together towards a common goal.

Why did you create the BIL challenge?

The BIL Challenge has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. I’d seen something similar at British Telecom and I always remember the sense or achievement and pride with which people talk about their participation. Then, three years ago, we announced our new core values: create, collaborate and care in a big event, out of which BIL created the BIL Influencers: a group of people from all areas of the bank, who came together to develop solutions to everyday problems. It was fun to do, but lost a bit of steam as time went on and eventually it trickled out.

Then COVID happened and after a year of homeworking, we looked to re-energise the our Create Together 2025 strategy and were looking for ways of doing that. So I suggested doing a small competition, bringing these values to life again by getting people together to take little idea seeds and develop them into full business cases. Obviously the ambition was always to implement these ideas if possible.

What was the process for gathering projects?

The main objective was always about celebrating our diversity, getting everybody involved across the group and organisational boundaries and help people make new connections within the bank. So the competition was designed around these two key concepts. To collect the ideas, we opened it up to the entire bank, not just BIL Luxembourg but the entire BIL group, so people from BMI.Belair House, China and Switzerland could all submit ideas.

Submitting your ideas was very straightforward: you just had to complete a very simple form with three questions, you didn’t have to come up with a business case. The strapline was: create value for a) our clients, b) us as an organisation or c) the world around us. We ended up having 94 ideas submitted in a week. This was so big, nobody expected that. We always felt the one of the biggest risk was that we wouldn’t have enough ideas so this number was truly amazing. By the time we cleaned them up, because of course there were similar ideas, we ended up with 53.

“We ended up with 15 very diverse teams with a 50-50 gender, age, experience, seniority split almost everywhere.”

Ruth Kremer

How were those ideas then developed?

We asked everybody in the bank to vote on the list of 53. Voting was very straight forward and fun: Tinder style, swipe right if you love it, left if you hate it, click the middle button if you’re not sure either way. And again we experienced an amazing participation: over 1,000 people voted. In addition to the public vote, we also asked a Jury panel to vote. The combination of both votes resulted in a shortlist of 15 ideas, 5 in each category.

Then, in week three, we invited again everybody to apply to participate in the competition itself. The premise was that they would not be able to choose who they were going to work with. So it’s a little bit like a blind date where you say ‘I would like to do this’. But you don’t know who you’re going to end up with.

What was the response?

We needed about 60 people and we ended up with 99, so again, a huge success, and a much greater take up than even I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. We ended up with 15 very diverse teams with a 50-50 gender, age, experience, seniority split almost everywhere.

What support did the teams receive?

We just gave people an overall framework rather than detailed instructions: Imagine you get a page which says ‘too good to go. What should we do without food waste?’

That is all the information the teams got. We assigned a coach to each team, not to act as project manager or team leader, but rather to help them gel as a team. We gave very little guidelines. I remember people asking ‘is there a template? What format?’ The whole point is to be creative and produce a convincing pitch.

To support the teams, we introduced weekly lunchtime calls, the so-called Tuesday Calls. In these calls, we would explain what is happening, but we also have guest speakers with a different focus topics each week, topics that we felt were relevant for the competition. Kamel Amroune talked to us about connecting the dots, what you do and how you get to work in a team. We had one about Design Thinking and how it can be used to design a solution; another session covered the key elements of a good business case as well as Simon Sinek’s ‘the idea of the why’. A week before the semi-final Ilana Devillers, from F4A, spoke to us about pitching. It was extremely motivational and got everybody fired up for the semis.

“As part of our 2025 strategy, we’re also looking at our Target Operating Model: how we organise ourselves to be ready for the future.”

Ruth Kremer

How did you select the jury?

It came back to celebrating our diversity, connecting the parts and creating a feeling of belonging to BIL group. It’s quite difficult to feel like a group sometimes. BIL Luxembourg is obviously the old lady who has been around for a very long time, Switzerland’s quite far away, China’s even further away – so sometimes we tend to think of BIL Lux as BIL.

So in the Jury, we had Fabien Käslin, the COO and CFO of BIL Suisse as we Ren Wang, Chief Representative of BIL’s Beijing Office. We then added three representatives of the client: Vanessa Engel (WM), Lionel Bodson (Corp), and Cedric Weisse (Individuals). We also had had a representative from our staff delegation, Maria Toth, IT with Laurent Kaiser as well as the Head of Sustainable Development Alessandra Simonelli. Finally, the ExCo was also represented in the Jury by Emilie Hoël, head of international Wealth Management.

How do you see the BIL Challenge evolving?

When I first pitched the Challenge, I explained that we would need to repeat it three times to give people the opportunity to take part – unless it turned out a complete failure that is. There are those who will jump at the opportunity first time round, but then there will be some who prefer to wait and see. This year we are also replacing our core bank system so many people may not be able to participate even though they may want to. So it was always key to do this again. Due to our big IT programme, we will have to see about the exact timing of the BIL Challenge 2023 but we will be definitiely be doing it again.

How does the BIL Challenge fit in with the group’s long-term strategy?

As part of our 2025 strategy, we’re also looking at our Target Operating Model: how we organise ourselves to be ready for the future. A Target Operating Model is not an organisation chart, but an ecosystem, a way of working. Whenever you change something in an ecosystem, you must be mindful of all side effects: tweaking someone small in one area often has an impact somewhere altogether unexpected . The BIL Challenge is part of the spirit, mindset and core values that we try to embed much more fundamentally in our organisation. Intrapreneurship, collaboration and can-do attitude should not be something you just do to win a competition, but rather becomes part of everybody’s daily life

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