02 May 2019

How Eastern Bank Fosters a Culture of Innovation and Partnership to Drive “FinTech for Good”

Written by Dahiana Duarte


At Eastern Bank we are committed to doing good things to help people prosper. This extends to our innovation approach which we call “FinTech for Good,” and involves using the latest methods and technologies to help our community, customers and colleagues. In May of 2018, we began to further advance this goal by engaging the broader FinTech community and joining the inaugural year of MassChallenge FinTech (MCFT).

We wrote an earlier post about the kinds of projects and goals our team is eager to explore through this collaboration, which you can read more about here!

Eastern Bank’s approach to innovation

In this post we’ll give you an inside look at the approach to innovation in financial services we’ve applied throughout MCFT and how you can leverage it to reach your goals, too. Our approach in working with FinTech startups centers on three core principles:

1. Internal engagement: Be cross-functional, collaborative, and remember your corporate functions in the process. Involve all your stakeholders on Day 0 of the project, so you can secure buy-in, communicate goals and encourage teamwork throughout the organization before even piloting with startups. This has been key to setting our MCFT pilots up for success.

2. Customer-centricity:  Design with the customer in mind and leverage design thinking methods (e.g., empathy mapping) to ensure you’re focusing on the right problems.

3. Outcome-focus and agility: Establish program metrics and goals to help define what are you trying to achieve and how to do it. Scope appropriately and use agile methodologies to keep projects light and fast.

Laying the groundwork for innovation programs

We were intentional about developing an engaging, customer-centric program from day 0. The first step of our work with MCFT was challenge creation. MCFT uses a unique “reverse pitch” model where partners like us define specific challenges we’d like to work with startups to solve.

Concentrating our goals around consumer and small business banking, we invited twenty employees from across ten divisions (e.g., marketing, operations, digital channels, consumer banking, small business banking, customer service, information security and more) to ideate on potential “challenges” we could solve within these customer segments. MCFT led a design-thinking workshop where our employees leveraged tools like persona development and empathy mapping to brainstorm ideas that would inform our reverse pitches to the startup ecosystem.

The results spoke for themselves:

1. We created a robust idea pipeline: Our employees developed over 26 ideas that spanned financial health and wellness; data; alternative solutions; and community engagement. We then went through an exercise to group these ideas into clusters / themes and used this information to craft the final challenges presented to the startup community. These included improving our customers’ digital experiences and leveraging new automation / analytics tools. (This success wouldn’t have been possible had we not crowdsourced or leveraged a design-thinking and outcomes focused approach throughout the session.)

2. The process opened our eyes to another opportunity: The majority of the 26 ideas highlighted the strong connection behind our company’s commitment to both our customers and communities. With our success directly tied to the strength of the communities we serve, we decided to add a third challenge area focused on fostering community collaboration. (Just another example of how design thinking helps companies focus on a customer centric approach.)

3. We also developed an early, diverse group of stakeholders actively engaged and supportive of our MCFT involvement, which has been instrumental in cultivating an environment that is “start-up ready” for our MCFT pilots.


Eastern team members’ latest design thinking principles including empathy mapping and hands on prototyping exercises to brainstorm reverse pitch focus areas.

Building blocks for startup partnerships

When evaluating MCFT’s pool of 55 semi-finalist companies, we sought to obtain buy-in from the entire team by inviting our technology, business banking, consumer banking and digital leads to assess our potential FinTech partners. In doing so, we familiarized internal leaders with the startup ecosystem and obtained important insights from them in evaluating companies that best matched Eastern Bank’s priorities, culture, and organizational mission.

Not surprisingly, engaging our team members continued to create more benefits. These stakeholders began championing our innovation goals and outcomes throughout the organization. Their teams have become invaluable resources and partners as our pilots with startups have progressed.

Aligning to a common purpose

Most importantly, we viewed our corporate functions as advisors. These groups (e.g., legal, compliance, risk, information security, etc.) are often overlooked when it comes to innovation, but they shouldn’t be. They bring an incredible amount of knowledge and subject matter expertise to the table when evaluating new solutions and are a vital part in how we continue to innovate and evolve our products and services. Establishing open lines of communication with them immediately ensured everyone was on the same page, engaged and committed to success from “Day 0.”


(From left to right) Dahiana Duarte (Strategy, Eastern Labs), Ashley Eknaian (Chief Digital Strategist, Head of Eastern Labs), Kris Puskar (Head of Business Banking), Mark Leonard (Chief Architect), Julie Colarusso (Head of Digital Channels), Anne Clune (Leader of Small Business Banking), Barbara Heinemann (EVP and Head of Consumer Banking) and Don Westermann (Chief Information Officer) before meeting potential MCFT startup partners .

We’re just getting started

We’ve leveraged best practices and expanded on our collaborative culture to benefit the program, our startup partners and (hopefully soon!!) our customers – however, we’re just getting started. As we gear up to implement our pilots and measure outcomes through MCFT, we expect to learn more and refine our approach. We know well that innovation is an iterative process and look forward to seeing what the pilot phase brings.

To follow our program progress or learn more about other innovation initiatives across Eastern Bank, follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Be sure to watch for the following hashtags: #JoinUsforGood #EasternLabs #FinTechforGood.

Dahiana Duarte, Assistant Vice President and Strategy Analyst for Eastern Labs at Eastern Bank. 

Eastern Labs is responsible for driving innovation and connecting Eastern Bank to the broader FinTech ecosystem through experimentation, partnership and investment. Dahiana received a B.A. in Economics and International Finance from Tufts University. She is passionate about using FinTech and technology to help people live better lives. You can follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter





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