The bank's CEO Ralph Hamers seeks to put the customer in the driver’s seat, using technology as a tool toward that end, not as a goal unto itself.
Global Finance: How has your emphasis on making ING the world’s leading digital bank helped you address changing customer needs on a global scale?
Ralph Hamers: Key here is to keep in mind that our digital transformation is not a goal in itself. It is only the result of how we think we can remain relevant for our customers and best serve their financial needs. Partly as a result of the democratizing effect of technology, banking products have become more and more commoditized. The features of one savings account or current account versus another are barely different. Recognizing this, and inspired by fintechs and digital disruptors in other sectors, I firmly believe that the only way to stand out from the crowd is by offering a superior customer experience. The experience that customers now expect, driven by their frequent interactions with the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, is one that is personal, instant, relevant and seamless. And also borderless—with a consistent experience no matter where in the world the products and services are accessed from—for b-to-c and b-to-b alike. For banks, that experience translates into one that is clear and easy, available anytime and anywhere, and most of all empowering—putting customers in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own finances.
GF: What do you see as the main challenges ahead, such as regulation and fintech competition?
Hamers: We do not underestimate the burden of increasing and unpredictable regulation and the impact of changing economic circumstances. But by far the biggest challenge for our sector is to remain relevant for our customers. People still need the services we provide, in payments, savings or financing large investments. Doing their personal finances is no one’s hobby—not even mine. People need banking but not necessarily banks. And a new breed of financial services competitor has emerged to meet that need: the fintechs. There’s much to learn from these new competitors. Fortunately, we have the mindset to do just that. We partner with them, setting up accelerators and also launching our own fintechs like Yolt in the UK and Payconiq in Benelux.
GF: What is the optimal model for the bank of the future, and how will ING get there?
Hamers: The bank of the future will look very different from today’s bricks-and-mortar banks. When picturing tomorrow, I draw inspiration from the leading digital disrupters of today. The most successful of those are so-called platform companies. Alphabet [Google], Amazon and Facebook are all platforms, and happen to be three of the world’s 10 largest listed companies. Their rapid growth has been enabled by digital and mobile technology, making it possible to achieve huge scale with near-zero marginal costs in connectivity, production and distribution, and often without the need for owned assets. Translating this to banking, I see a number of key ingredients necessary for sustainable success. I see the bank of the future as one whose purpose it is to empower people, both in life and in business. It provides a differentiating customer experience that is clear, easy, consistent and convenient. It also exists as part of a wider ecosystem that goes beyond banking, supported by complementary offerings from third parties (including other financial services providers). It’s connected to the other platforms and ecosystems where consumers spend most of their online time, providing easy access to financial services where and when users need them. And the glue that binds all of these elements together is culture. A culture with the customer at its center, and one that lives and breathes innovation, is crucial.
This interview has been edited for length. The full interview is available on our website at https://www.gfmag.com/ing-best-global-bank/