PwC Luxembourg is encouraging their employees to think like entrepreneurs and develop client-centric products to drive innovation within the organisation. The latest ideation challenge has resulted in technology to help clients meet the latest requirements around ESG reporting.
PwC’s Exponential initiative was launched in 2020 with the aim of encouraging employees from across the business to share ideas for innovations that can benefit the business and their clients. It provides a formal way for employees to bring these ideas to leadership. According to Tax Partner and PwC Exponential Leader, Stéphane Rinkin, “its purpose is to provide a bottom-up channel to bring innovation to life.” Through the challenge, employees can experience what it’s like to go through all the stages of developing a product and bringing it to market.
For the employees themselves, the challenge aspect is motivating. According to Julien Jacqué, Director of Sustainability & ESG Business Transformation at PwC Luxembourg, and winner of the 2022 edition, “there are a lot of young people at PwC who are very innovation-minded already. But the challenge emphasises this culture and incentivises people to get involved. It gives a voice to all employees and makes you feel like you’re part of the future of the company.” And the competition is really open to anyone in the company. As Rinkin explains, “It doesn’t matter who you are or how much experience you have in the company, if you have a good idea we will help you realise it.”
The Exponential innovation journey
There are several stages before the winning idea is chosen. After all ideas are submitted, employees of shortlisted ideas take part in a two-day hackathon during which they further research their ideas, test the viability with clients and business mentors and develop a visual prototype. The teams shortlisted from this process then have the opportunity to develop a business case and pitch to leadership before the winning idea is selected. The winning team is then given the time and space to develop and implement the technology so that clients can benefit. In 2022, for the first time, PwC provided a financial bonus to the winning team. As Rinkin explains, “leadership really wanted to show how important it is for the business and to make a real difference.”
Supporting clients with non-financial reporting for ESG
This year’s winning idea supports clients in tackling changes to the reporting requirements around environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) policies. According to Jacqué, “we saw that many clients were overwhelmed with the amount of ESG frameworks and regulations for reporting non-financial information. This non-financial information is new for most clients and will require them to transform their reporting function across data, technology, process and people.” The first challenge clients face is knowing what data they need to report and where to find it which will then drive the impact of how the rest of the reporting function needs to be transformed, including the tools and processes needed to collect, store and process this data. Jacqué’s team was already helping clients to fulfil these requirements manually, however they wanted to develop a way to streamline, automate and improve the customer experience.
Through the challenge, they pitched a tech solution that would give clients “confidence on which sustainability frameworks to follow, clarity on which data fields they need to report on and insights into where they can find the data in their systems landscape.” With this, Jacqué’s clients are able to then identify which tools to begin reporting, update processes to enable the technology and build out the people organisation to prepare the reports. The tool will be rolled out for Luxembourg clients by the end of Q1 2023, and the team already has local as well as international clients interested across PwC EMEA.
One of the reasons why this idea was selected is that it is so client-centred – a central tenet of the ideation challenge. According to Jacqué, “we wanted our idea but also our business model to be innovative – our solution is provided as a service, meaning our clients opt-in with a yearly subscription fee, because our clients want constant support as regulations and data to be reported change over time.” Another factor that swayed it for the judges was how developed the idea was by the time it was pitched. As Rinkin explains, “it was a very concrete and advanced idea which only needed a final little push to enable it to happen.”
Failure is key to innovation
However, not all ideas are like this and many are not pursued beyond the hackathon stage. But that’s totally ok, according to Rinkin. “Throughout the challenge we’ve managed to help change people’s mindset. It’s not a failure if an idea doesn’t work – if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. And leadership recognises that. You won’t be penalised for having a bad idea.” For Jacqué, this is a critical element of innovation. “True innovation can only thrive if failure is accepted, even better if promoted. People need to be supported to think outside the box. You learn much more from failure than winning, not least of which is how much more enjoyable it is to win.”