The Negotiation Challenge 2017

Our this year’s negotiation competition took place on April 21-22 in Bogota, Colombia.  18 teams representing world’s best business and law schools traveled long ways to live their passion, meet other students, professionals and academics who share it and to compare their negotiation skills and become The Great Negotiators and World Champions 2017.

The Trophy

Why are we doing this?  Organizing TNC is a lot of work so why after so many years, we still extend our working hours, invest lots of our time and resources, write cases, help out with the logistics, and constantly ask ourselves what else can we do to make it better.  Money?  Definitely not!  Participating in The Negotiation Challenge has always been free of charge.  We even try to arrange free accommodation and meals for the participating students.  Fame?  Not really.  Organizing negotiation competitions is not an evaluation criterion for academics and even less will it help us during our performance reviews.  So why?

I tried to explain our reasons during my opening address at University of Los Andes our hosting institution in Bogota.  It is a dream of every teacher, instructor, professor to see the shining eyes in front of them and we have been very privileged to see lots of them every year.  Yes, we are idealists.  Teaching students how to negotiate better, inspire them to search from wise and sustainable agreements and resolve disputes, showing them that there is a viable alternative to competition is what keeps us going.  It is our tiny contribution to making this world a better place.

The first round of The Negotiation Challenge took place online.  The participants negotiated the details of an M&A deal between a Colombian producer of high-end chocolate products and an US chain of luxury supermarkets.

During the second round hosted at the University of Los Andes, the participants found the lost treasures of El Dorado and had to agree on how to distribute them.

University of Los Andes – great view on surrounding mountains

The third round took place at a beautiful Hotel de la Opera in the center of Bogota and focused on the Colombian peace process between the representatives of the government and the FARC leaders.

Round 3 at Hotel de la Opera

The last qualification round and the final were conducted at the beautiful Hacienda El Noviciado right outside of Bogota.  The topic of the fourth round was the division of costs and revenues from the extension of the Panama Canal whereas in the final the teams from American University and IPADE Business School re-engineered the Colombian peace process after the recent rejection of its results in a referendum.  

The final rounds at the Hacienda

The jury decided to award the title of the Great Negotiators to Alex, Luis and Hector from IPADE Business School.  The third place went to the Amy, Benjamin and Jonathan representing Harvard’s Kennedy School.

TNC 2017 – The Winners

The Negotiation Challenge 2017 is history now so it is time for conclusions.  First and the foremost, having The Gap Partnership as our strategic partner has helped us finance the competition but also improved its quality.  Having such a strong partner who is just as passionate about negotiation as we are, helped us elevate the competition to a completely new level.  Offering the participants a blend of solid scientific and pedagogical foundation with commercial acumen of international experts, makes The Negotiation Challenge one of the world’s best negotiation competitions and an unforgettable educational experience for students.  We are very happy to have gained such a strong partner.

The Gap Partnership – strategic sponsor of The Negotiation Challenge

Second, Colombia and the Colombians.  Prior to the competition many students and colleagues raised their doubts about organizing TNC outside of Europe.  Yes, for many teams travel expenses doubled, for some they quadrupled, for others they turned out prohibitive.  We were aware of this issue and did expect it to have an impact on the mix of participating teams and it probably did.  We decided to try it anyway and very pleased with the result.  Ultimately, in Colombia we found our new Negotiation Champions, the team from IPADE Business School from Mexico.

Interestingly enough during our stay in Colombia, one of German magazines published the list of the safest tourist destinations and ranked Colombia together with Jemen as the most dangerous countries in the world.  We read it on the beach of La Isla Rosario and could not resist laughing in disbelief.  Whoever came up with this ranking had absolutely no idea.  Not for a single minute or event a second were we in danger or at risk but during our whole stay in Colombia we felt very welcome, surrounded by kind, helpful and warm-hearted Colombians.

I wish we had more time to travel during our stay in Colombia.  The country has a lot to offer, even for the most demanding visitors and a week is certainly not enough to see all its treasures.  We barely got a taste of them and we absolutely loved it!  The combination of colors, warm and life enjoying people, fresh fruits and the sun was close to perfection.  It would be great to come back one day…

La Isla Rosario


World Championship in Negotiation

The Negotiation Challenge is major global negotiation competition for graduate students.  In 2017, 18 teams of world’s best students will compete in Bogota, Colombia.  This is the first time the competition takes place outside Europe and we are all excited and looking forward to meeting the participants soon.

18 international teams will compete in the World Championship in Negotiation in Bogotá on April 21 and 22, 2017

Source: News & Events Details | HHL Europe, Germany

Brexit: Negotiation Expert Warns About Lose-Lose Solution

The hard Brexit is presumably just an opening position which might evolve during the course of the negotiations. Both parties need wise negotiators who can put away their pride and focus on what’s really important.

Prof. Dr. Remigiusz Smolinski, Professor of Negotiation at HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management: “Hard Brexit could be revised over the course of the negotiations”

Source: News & Events Details | HHL Europe, Germany

comdirect innovations featured on

Fully dressed featured on 😉

Im Rennen um die Bank der Zukunft sieht sich die Comdirect Bank an der Spitze. Mit Innovationen und Apps will Deutschlands drittgrößte Direktbank (zwei Millionen Kunden) umfassender Finanzbegleiter der Verbraucher werden.BILD durfte sich in den Entwicklungsabteilungen des Geldhauses umschauen. Ein Ortsbesuch.

Source: BILD auf Ortsbesuch | Hier entstehen die Banking-Apps der Zukunft *** BILDplus Inhalt *** – Konto und Bank –

Season for Innovation Awards

2016 is slowly coming to an end and it has been an amazing year!  I am very happy that our ideas and hard work on developing them into products have been noticed by the experts and peers from the financial industry.  This year we have received 4 innovation awards for the products we either initiated, developed or both.  Here is a brief recap of our this year’s successful innovations:

Startup Garage was one of my first ideas at comdirect.  I described it briefly in one of my earlier posts.  Yesterday, on November 16, we were honored to receive:


the Innovation Award 2016 in the category business model granted us by during the 19th Euro Finance Week in Frankfurt.  We are very happy that our essentially very simple idea, was recognized by the senior academics and professionals from the jury.  We perceive it as a very valuable expert confirmation that our intuition was correct but our ambition does not let us slow down or stop.  We have lots of ideas how we could further develop our Startup-Garage and bring it to a completely new level.

Innovationspreis 2016

Photos: (c) Jens Braune del Angel / Maleki Group

Bonus-Sparen is also one of the ideas from my early days at comdirect and I have already described briefly our interpretation of shopping for the retirement plan in one of my earlier posts. At the beginning of September, we received a Customer Innovation Award also know as Kunden-Innovationspreis 2016 also for Bonus-Sparen.  Since its launch in August, thousands comdirect customers have registered for Bonus-Sparen and many have made their first investments in securities, realizing that it is easier than they had thought.  Mission accomplished?  Definitely not!  It is only the beginning!  We have lots of ideas, how to make Bonus-Sparen even more intuitive, easy to use and bigger.  Some of them will go live even this year so stay tuned!


smartPay App – the idea for this product has been around at comdirect long before I joined in April 2015.  Interestingly enough, this project originally received a code name:  Kill Bill because its original objective was to help our customers pay their paper invoices by scanning them with a smartphone.  Later our product vision evolved further and we decided to include an archive to store and categorize important documents as well as other convenience features.  smartPay app has brought us two innovation awards.  First, in March, we won YouGov’s Customer Innovation award also know as Kunden-Innovation 2016:

… and a half year later, we got the first international innovation award in comdirect’s history and were awarded with Efma & accenture’s silver Innovation Award 2016 in the category: Payment and Wallet:


None of this would have been possible without passion and dedication of many involved colleagues who tirelessly worked on turning our ideas and visions into the products our customers would enjoy.  Thank you all!  You are the true innovation stars!

Despite having a very innovative year 2016, paraphrasing Steve Jobs, we stay foolish and hungry for more!


Innovationen gemeinsam mit FinTechs vorantreiben

A short piece on inspiration, innovation and the necessity to redefine ourselves.  It also includes an overview of our recent activities:  Innovation Bootcamp, and Collabothon together with a brief description of new products:  smartpay-App and Bonus-Sparen and an open invitation to all dreamers and visionaries to define the future of financial services with us in the Startup Garage.

Source: Innovationen gemeinsam mit FinTechs vorantreiben – Gastbeitrag von Prof. Dr. Remigiusz Smolinski

Shopping for your retirement plan – an innovative investment product of comdirect

Recently, I reported on an innovation price we have recently received for our newly launched Bonus-Sparen product.  In this post I would like to describe briefly what it is and why we decided to offer it.

In Germany only about 9% of the adults invest in the capital market.  Only 9%!  The remaining 91% have lots of reasons why this alternative is not suitable for them but as a matter of fact by keeping their money on their savings accounts, they actually end up decreasing their wealth.  In the times of low, or negative interests rates there is simply no alternative to capital markets.

One of the reasons for avoiding capital markets most frequently stated by our customers is:  it is just too complicated for me.  This is also the reason we decided to tackle with Bonus-Sparen.  Our goal was to come up with a product that reduces customers’ cognitive barriers, doubts and hesitations to the minimum and make investing as simple as… shopping.

With Bonus-Sparen we offer our customers discounts and rebates at major online shops and convert them automatically into ETFs.  It is as simple as it can only be:

Our partner shops are happy because we deliver incremental sales for them.  Our customers are happy because they can buy what they need at discounted prices and because what they save is automatically invested.  We are happy because we help our customers make their first encounters with capital market investments and hope we can convince them that they are not as complicated as it may seem.

We launched Bonus-Sparen in August and even without any advertising, we are observing a constant growth in the customer base.  Shopping for the retirement plan (Shoppen für die Altersvorsorge) might be a product which had been missing in the market and we are very happy we were able to have filled this gap.


Source: Bonus-Sparen – Bonus-Sparen – Anlegen & Sparen |

Innovation Bootcamp und Collabothon – Defining the Future of Banking

A short report on our Innovation Bootcamp and the announcement of the Collabothon from the IT-Finanzmagazin.

September 5-7 we took 15 innovation drivers from Commerzbank, mBank, ebase, Neugelb Studios, VISA, and of course comdirect on an unforgettable journey to London to exchange ideas and seek inspiration in one of the world’s fintech capitals.  We visited Barclay’s Accelerator, Winton Labs, R3 Consortium, VISA Collab, Level 39, and Startup Bootcamp.  We listened to great pitches and inspirational presentations and also found some time to enjoy the beauty of London.

It was great to meet so many people who are so passionate about what they do.  It was great to feel the energy of the fintech community.  But above of all, it was great to see that some of our crazy ideas are not that crazy afterwards 😉

Ideas come from everywhere and we brought lots of them from London so stay tuned!  I hope to report on some of them shortly.



Source: » Level39, Innovation Bootcamp und Collabothon – Gemeinsam für die Zukunft des Banking

Strategic Usage of Dynamic Pricing at Otto Group 

Developing a concept, testing and rolling out dynamic pricing in various entities of the Otto Group was one of the most exciting projects I have ever managed.  Lots of interesting insights into innovation, data, and human nature.

Dynamic pricing is essentially based on simple economic principles (Economics 101) but its practical implementation in e-commerce and brick and mortar retail has only become possible in the last decade.  Our project started at the whiteboard.  It felt great to sketch demand functions again, calculate their elasticities and solve optimization problems.  This exercise gave us a good idea for what we need.

For economists, dynamic pricing is nothing new or exciting.  Most of those who have received formal training in this discipline have learned how to estimate a demand function, how to calculate its elasticity, and how setup an objective function for whatever needs to be optimized (revenues, profit, or stock levels) and solve optimization problems.  So much about theory but is it possible to apply it in real markets, to real customers and with real products?

The answer is yes but it is rather tricky.  First, because demand functions are not stable in time.  They change and for some products they might even change rather often.  Demand functions might be different in the mornings and in the evenings.  They might be different on the weekdays and on weekends.  They may vary with seasons and of course with the weather.  What does it mean in practice?  To take full advantage of dynamic pricing, the underlying demand functions need to be constantly adjusted and the algorithm needs to look for temporal patters.  Only then it can suggest the right level of prices at the right time.

Second, dynamic pricing needs data, lots of data and ideally it needs it fast.  The algorithm needs to know, which products are bought and when.  It needs to know, how much of which product we have on stock and how fast we can reorder.  If we consider the number of products sold and the fact that each product version (e.g. size, color) can (at least theoretically) be optimized separately, we are talking about a mass of data.  Ideally, the algorithm also needs to have this data real-time or as close to it as possible.  The length and speed of the feedback loops between the market and the machine determines the potential of dynamic pricing in a particular application.

Third, dynamizing prices in any organization, in which they previously had been set by individuals is a huge change project.  It is man against the machine.  The larger the shop, the more volatile the demand, the less chance a man stands in this uneven battle.  But despite this obvious imbalance of processing power, it is ultimately a man that has to decide to make himself redundant and it is not so easy.  Maybe I will write a book about it some day.

So implementing dynamic pricing in organizations is typically an extra large project both in terms of the efforts as well as the potential benefits but the question is:  is it worth it?  It is very complex, it is rather expensive (most likely at least a six-digit number), and it ends up as a large scale organisational change project.  To overweight these factors the potential benefits must be huge!  … and they can be especially for the retailers whose scale of operations is large enough.  According to well informed sources, dynamic prices can increase revenue and profitability by 5-6%. This is a rather conservative estimate.  In its most extreme version, the impact of dynamic pricing can be even higher!  What does it mean?  Fully automated dynamic pricing is probably best suitable for large retailers or those selling a fast moving but limited assortment.  Although it is merely a rule of a thumb, I would expect that retailers with yearly revenues significantly below 100 million (dollar or euro) would have a hard time squeezing more benefits out of this technology than their investment necessary to implement it.

There are various solutions for smaller retailers and I promise to share some of my thoughts on this topic here at some point.

Dynamic pricing works and offers a powerful way of translating high level strategic objectives (growth vs. profitability vs. stock levels) on the most granular level of SKU prices.  It also implements brand strategies which are perfectly aligned with customers’ perception and their resulting price sensitivity.  It captures also the most relevant changes in company’s environment and immediately suggests appropriate  pricing adjustments.

All this magic happens, when we dare to trust the machines 😉