Bundled insular solutions in real estate and enhanced them in a customer-centric way.

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Individual solutions were bundled along the customer journey.

Teaching new skills and best practices promote a more agile and collaborative development culture even past the engagement with VMware Tanzu Labs.

Market introduction of new and integrated platform within ten weeks.

SFP is the leading designer of the “Sparkasse” (savings bank) brand experience.

Sparkassen-Finanzportal (SFP) is the central provider of communication and digital services within the Sparkasse Group. In the past, the Group’s decentralized structure has been a fertile breeding ground for insular solutions, which often made the customer experience a difficult one. This issue needed to be addressed to shore up revenue and prevent a customer exodus. In collaboration with VMware Tanzu Labs, SFP reimagined its existing real estate portal “S-Immobilienportal” adding innovative and more customer-friendly functions. It went live in November 2020. Building on this successful partnership, SFP plans to continue working with VMware Tanzu Labs to further develop and modernize platforms related to the financial sector as well as strengthen SFP’s role as a driver of innovation within the Sparkasse organization.

Consistent digital brand experience thanks to central service provider

As part of the savings bank service provider DSV Group, SFP is the central service provider for communication and digital services in the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe. Over 400 employees at the Berlin, Düsseldorf and Stuttgart sites develop integrated solutions for savings banks, associations and alliance partners on a daily basis. Their activities include central brand communication and the development of end-to-end, technology-based solutions to deliver lasting business success and a cohesive customer experience.

SFP’s scope of services includes, among others, the support of the portals Sparkasse.de and the S-Immobilienportal. Another core competency of SFP is the development of products and solutions near to and beyond the Group’s core banking services, such as integrating chatbots, digitalizing the construction financing processes, and launching and managing a donation platform. Backed by over 20 years’ experience, the services developed by SFP and the expererience they provide build a key competitive differentiator for the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe.

Tradition versus modern customer expectations

A widespread local presence and deep roots in the community have given Germany’s savings banks a high standing since they were founded around 200 years ago: Tradition breeds trust. However, traditional financial institutions today find themselves confronted by growing competition – not to mention the need to design more customer-oriented offerings. FinTechs, for example, start “from the green field”, do not bring legacy mountains of data with them and offer customer-oriented services quickly and efficiently.

To stand up to such competition, traditional financial institutions have no choice but to innovate. They must provide modern and by customers expected digital solutions such as online and video communication, modern financial services and the guarantee of a superior customer experience. Innovating fast enough to keep up with customer expectations is disrupted when there are outdated organizational and process bottlenecks. “The decentralized structure of the Sparkassen- Finanzgruppe is a great advantage for a broad presence in the area,” says Oliver Hepfner, Managing Director of SFP. Germany has about 380 independent savings banks, and each branch has a three-person board on average. “When it comes to introducing digital innovations, however, implementing individual requirements is a bit of a challenge at the same time,” adds Hepfner.

This kind of heterogeneous environment created the need for a broad spectrum of digital products, each of which fed into insular solutions. Hepfner says in this regard: “Made up of individual pieces, this system worked very well but not yet perfectly. So, we wanted to go a step further and logically tie up loose ends in a fitting way – especially in order to efficiently improve the customer journey.” The ultimate goal: to develop even better applications and bring them to market even faster.

Sparkassen Finanzportal

Clear the way for innovation: cross-functional product teams and new skills

SFP brought in VMware’s Tanzu Labs for the implementation. “VMware Tanzu Labs’ decades of experience, along with its proven approach and tested patterns, encouraged us to jointly tackle the first project in the context of S-real-estate,” Hepfner reports, having already had positive experiences with the software developer in the past. The aim was to modernize the “S-Immobilienportal” innovatively, with a customer-centric focus and as quickly as possible. “VMware Tanzu Labs is synonymous with helping enterprises deliver innovative applications to production extremely fast. They give us proposals and pointers on what works well for other companies and projects and provides a good customer experience,” Hepfner goes on. “We then pick what we want from this portfolio and develop our own individual methods.

Continuously pairing product owners, developers and user experience designers together enhances cooperation and facilitates the joint design of new features and solutions. “This co-development strategy was highly focused and efficient,” recalls Milena Kaltenbacher, the project manager in charge of portals at SFP. “Even during the coronavirus pandemic, we were able to achieve fantastic results together with the aid of virtual labs and tools such as Miro boards and roadmaps. Thanks to regular feedback loops with the savings banks and their customers, SFP was able to gain valuable insights to enrich its existing wealth of experience and development expertise. “As with all projects, the focus was on customer requirements, for example from alliance partners,” Hepfner says. “We then started by creating click dummies before proceeding to development.” With the aid of the environment and practical instructions supplied by VMware Tanzu Labs, SFP was able to successfully launch its ”S-Immobilienportal” extension in just ten weeks.

VMware Tanzu Labs is synonymous with extremely fast and efficient implementation. They give us proposals and pointers on what have worked well in development for other companies and projects, and that deliver an excellent customer experience.”
Olive Harper, Managing Director, Sparkassen-Finanzportal GmbH

The customer journey at its best

Working with VMware Tanzu Labs, SFP was able to map out a customer-centric experience through the portal. “In the past, the customer journey when valuing a property ended rather abruptly in the email inbox,” Hepfner smiles. “And customers could only request a property valuation letter on site at the internet branch office or on the central portal. They would then receive an email containing the valuation document.” Today, thousands of prospective customers are routed directly to the “S-Immobilienportal”, which gives the savings banks far better opportunities to target them with tailor-made offerings at the right time – instead of losing customers in the dead end of email inbox.

SFP’s customers enjoy greater personalization thanks to the “S-Immobilienportal”. “We give savings bank customers a space where all the information they need is there at a glance,” Hepfner continues. “It’s not just about selling a property: It’s about everything that matters to the customer in this context.” With immediate effect, real estate properties can now be noted and stored on a wish list – complete with access to valuable analytics and valuation information. VMware Tanzu Labs has enabled the SFP team to cultivate new skills and development expertise, empowering them to press ahead with further innovations and get new applications to market fast.

The Managing Director also notes that further plans are in the pipeline: “In the future, we will integrate more insular solutions in this newly created area. Our focus, our vision is to model the entire customer journey – from financing through insurance to modernization and sale.” Customers can be approached selectively and efficiently at exactly the right time. Hepfner adds: “With VMware Tanzu Labs, saving banks generate leads much more easily and in a more lasting way!” For example, SFP can offer products such as protection for building developers and building insurance to customers while they are involved in the construction financing process.

Sparkassen Finanzportal

VMware Tanzu Labs’ emphasis on cross-functional product teams using lean and agile development practices changed the way SFP’s people think about their culture and processes. “We were able to complete this major project across different teams but with genuine cooperation, and that within a manageable runtime,” says project manager Kaltenbacher, who is pleased at how things have gone. “Thanks to VMware Tanzu Labs, this completely new project experience has given us a whole lot of fresh ideas.” Integrating what were previously separate solutions was well received by the entire SFP organization. But it has also strengthened the company’s standing in the market, supporting continued growth and customer loyalty.

This is just the beginning!

“Building on this positive experience with VMware Tanzu Labs, we will readily tackle further joint projects going forward,” Hepfner affirms. Future plans include deeper integration of the VMware stack: “Supported by VMware Tanzu Labs and, in the future, armed with the whole Tanzu portfolio, we believe we are well equipped to develop customer-oriented applications. That in turn will keep the “Sparkasse” (savings bank) brand in the forefront of digital banking, while we remain a driver of innovation throughout the savings bank organization.” As part of an “innovation factory,” SFP also plans to launch new digital solutions and communication channels for a younger generation of customers.