5 Incumbents Becoming Disruptors – Part II

Big businesses making big moves to retain their lead

The skills and requirements for becoming a successful business change often. While some of the problems faced by companies are very different to those of the past, the aim of the game is the same: keep innovating, or fall by the wayside.

In our Incumbents Becoming Disruptors series, we look again at how legacy companies across industry sectors are adopting technologies and innovating to their advantage.


Banks can no longer ignore blockchain. HSBC has certainly jumped on the blockchain bandwagon, and with good reason.  The bank operates internationally and the risk management and clearing systems for transactions and trades can differ. Blockchain enhances the foreign exchange (FX) process by creating agreed, immutable records. If a payment fails, having these records on the blockchain for all authorised parties to see saves time and effort. According to Mark Williamson, HSBC’s Chief Operating Officer for FX cash trading, using the system cuts processing costs by 25 per cent.

Over the past year, the bank has settled three million FX transactions and made $250bn worth of payments using distributed ledger technology. HSBC’s FX Everywhere initiative deploys a shared ledger that aligns FX transactions with the company’s internal balance sheet.

2) AXA

The insurance market is saturated by new startups who know how to avoid talking to their customers in a typical corporate way. They are also particularly good at building customer centric services. Established insurance companies are learning to do the same by changing how they manage customer to company interactions. French multinational insurer AXA is using AI to interact differently with users, gather data responsibly, and turn it into actionable insights. One AI powered service is a wellness and personal coaching chatbot called Alex. As well as responding to customers via advanced keyword recognition, Alex also asks questions and makes suggestions based on user behaviour. Last year, the AXA Research Fund released its Research Guide on Artificial Intelligence, positioning the company at the centre of important discussions.

3) BP

BP are exploring a number of different avenues to ensure that it not only survives, but thrives, in a fossil fuel free world. The oil and gas behemoth is experimenting with more efficient fuels and lubricants to reduce friction in existing internal combustion engines. BP has partnered with Fulcrum to turn household waste into jet fuel, and invested in StoreDot, an Israeli startup building a superfast battery solution for electric charging.

Speaking to DISRUPTIONHUB in 2018, Roy Williamson, Vice President of Advanced Mobility at BP, explained that collaboration plays a vital role.

“Collaboration is not the natural habitat of many companies that are entering this space. Traditionally, they have developed IP internally, and have kept everything to themselves. We’ve done the same thing, but the way of working is changing. It requires a very different outlook – a much more open perspective – and it requires businesses to take some risks.”

4) Zara

Fashion brand Zara is one of the most innovative retailers on the high street. Since 2014, Zara has used RFID tags to track its garments, creating a more informed, reactive logistical process. If a certain item is sold out, the system can quickly arrange a restock. In 2016, Zara made another pioneering move by installing self service checkouts in a number of its stores. The checkouts aim to reduce customer frustration at long queues and make the shopping experience more efficient.

Zara customers are also guided by digital signage – interactive mirrors, for example, make outfit suggestions based on what someone is currently trying on. Last year, the flagship store at London’s Westfield Stratford Mall was reopened alongside an integrated, robot controlled warehouse.

5) Ford

Founded on an innovative mindset, Ford has remained at the forefront of the auto industry since 1903. In 2015, the automaker opened an expanded Research and Innovation Centre at Palo Alto, California, to accelerate the Ford Smart Mobility initiative. Ford Smart Mobility focuses on connectivity, autonomous vehicles, customer experience and big data. Disruption, though, is a team effort. Ford is working with Nest to integrate home monitoring with the SYNC 3 in car operating system, and has recently announced a partnership with Volkswagen to launch electric vehicles in 2022.

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