RBC venturing into unusual territory with social network for boomers, Chinese e-commerce tool
A social network for baby boomers and a China-focused marketing tool are among the outside-the-box ideas that Canada’s largest bank hopes will bring it new customers in an increasingly tech-centric world.
The endeavours are part of RBC Ventures Inc., a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada, that builds apps and invests in upstart tech firms.
Since launching Ventures in June 2018, the company has been involved with around 30 projects, including Boomerang, which is “in the process of building the community for retired and semi-retired people in Canada,” according to its website.
That community, it adds, is already made up of “thousands” of registered members, “hundreds” of whom have gone to the creative workshops and meet-ups it has hosted in Toronto. (An upcoming event about paper flowers costs $20.)
According to a spokesperson, RBC Ventures debuted Boomerang on Oct. 26 at Toronto’s “ZoomerShow” — which touts itself as Canada’s biggest consumer show and lifestyle expo for people over 45.
A bank helping put on crafting workshops may seem strange, but it fits into a broader strategy RBC unveiled when it first rolled out RBC Ventures.
RBC said it was aiming to acquire five million Venture users within five years, of which it hopes to convert 10 per cent (or 500,000) to banking clients. CEO Dave McKay said in November 2018 that there were 350,000 registered RBC Ventures users, and added this August that the bank was still seeing “strong growth” in that metric.
The bank’s strategy comes as it and other lenders have noticed the creeping presence of big technology companies in the financial-services industry. McKay has been the most vocal about this looming risk among Canadian big bank CEOs, warning tech firms can position themselves between them and their customers.
“As we look ahead to the 2020s and beyond, we recognize that to continue to succeed we need to reimagine the role that we play in our clients’ lives to ensure RBC’s offerings are defensibly different from our competitors for the long-term,” RBC said in a response to the Financial Post. “This means moving from satisfying a part of a client’s experience to orchestrating a broader experience for them and offering exceptional solutions to all Canadians that go beyond traditional banking products.”
Another project is called Route86, a service that brings together the bank and Export Development Canada to try to help Canadian businesses with selling their products in China.
In addition to a March trademark application for the name, there is a website for the e-commerce program, which shares the same number as China’s telephone calling code: 86.
“In collaboration with subject matter experts, we will work with you to identify your brand’s potential in the Chinese market and create a brand story that will resonate with Chinese consumers,” the Route86 website says. “We will help you develop a market-entry strategy, bring your brand to market, and provide on-the-ground support to help move your product.”
… we need to reimagine the role that we play in our clients’ lives to ensure RBC’s offerings are defensibly different from our competitors for the long-term
RBC says Route86 is part of a “Go Global” program for export-hungry Canadians businesses that was launched earlier this year.
A spokesperson for EDC said RBC’s venture arm owns the website but the “China Readiness Tool” on the site is intellectual property that was developed and is owned by the Crown corporation.
“I can confirm that there has been interest and users have signed up for assistance under this initiative, however the exact numbers of users or potential customers that have signed up is commercially confidential information and cannot be released,” Anil Handa said in an email.
Other venture-related trademark applications filed by RBC include one for Willgo, a “digital travel site, namely providing information, commentary and resources in the field of travel tailored to users’ interests.”
Another is for “raincheque,” a product which would see customers pay a monthly fee in return for a lump sum payout if they are laid off.
Currently, consumers are only being asked if they’d be interested in the concept of raincheque, being developed by Genoa Labs, which its website calls “an innovation hub within RBC Insurance.”
An RBC spokesperson told the Financial Post that Willgo and raincheque are just “proof of concepts” that are being tested at this point. The trademarks were registered “in the event we decide to pursue them as ventures.”