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Wholesale Banking

Across time zones: How Alex is taking it on and making it happen

Alexander Piur has been the Global SPOC for Sustainability and Innovation in ING’s Real Estate Finance and Infrastructure sector since September 2019. In this interview, we talk about his global role, what his responsibilities are, and how he balances his work-life in that role.

Alex, can you tell us more about your role and your tasks?

As SPOC - Single Point of Contact - I work together with fifteen ING countries to create and implement our sustainability strategy on a global sector level. I also support and advise our customers when it comes to sustainable solutions in real estate finance sector. In addition to the strategy, topics such as data collection, reporting, climate risk management, methodology to calculate our carbon footprint, implementation of the Paris climate targets and supporting our clients to guide their transformation to sustainable buildings are just some of my key tasks. So, there is a lot to do! My job also brings some complexity, as there are different standards for the real estate industry in each country, such as building codes, environmental regulations, certification standards for buildings, just to name a few.

This sounds like you have your own team and also responsibility for staff!

Actually, I'm not a manager with HR responsibility and I don't have my own team that would report to me in any disciplinary way. Much better: I work - once across all time zones - with twelve colleagues from the Real Estate Finance teams in APAC, EMEA and the United States, with our back-office teams in Amsterdam and with colleagues from the Risk Department. We don't need hierarchies because we are all pulling in the same direction: ING has a global sustainability strategy, and everyone is also motivated to achieve the goals associated with it.

How does one become a global SPOC? How did you come to this role?

I have been with ING Germany in WB Real Estate Finance (REF) since 2014 - by then as a Director in the Origination Team. As our client base is very international and the exposure to Asian real estate investors with a focus on Europe and Germany is very important for the local business, I spent my Short-Term Assignment (STA) in Singapore and Sydney from April to September 2018. Upon my return, I was keen to do something different - something where I could stay connected to the sector and not have to leave ING. After all, I really do like working at ING and the real estate world is and will remain a very exciting and transformative industry for me. Because the importance of sustainability in the real estate business has increased significantly over the last 20 years that I have been working in this profession, I saw this topic as a good fit for a new area of responsibility. As a matter of fact, the real estate industry is responsible for around 40 percent of global carbon emissions. As a financier, we have a special role to play in steering capital in the right sustainable projects. So, it seemed obvious to create a role for this sector that would be responsible for precisely these topics globally, both internally and externally, from analysis to planning, via management and implementation. A position that was tailor-made for me!

In your view, what are the things that make your job so interesting?

First of all, the topic itself: The climate crisis is the largest challenge that mankind has to face. And climate crisis affects all of us - worldwide. At ING, our customers and the entire real estate sector are as global as the problem itself. The global collaboration with the Real Estate Finance teams has already resulted in a lot of excellent solutions. All of us work across national borders and time zones in a flexible, creative, motivated, and enthusiastic manner - that's what motivates me every day. Another aspect for me is the culture and way of working at ING in Germany. The agile way of working, flexible working hours, the hybrid working model with office, work from home and even working abroad, make it very easy for me to work internationally. That's why I decided to work in Frankfurt. This gives me the opportunity to visit my family at any time and at the same time take advantage of the excellent social benefits, such as the health or LearnING budget.

How is your work-life balance given that you work with people across different time zones, and even sometimes have to travel?

Every day is different. There is not a " typical office day" - and that's exactly what I like a lot. When my colleagues in Australia or Asia may already be meeting for after-work drinks, I'm just about to go to the canteen in Frankfurt, and in New York the morning coffee is still brewing. For me, this requires a fair amount of planning, both at work and in my private life. For example, whenever I want to do something in my free time, or for my family and friends, I block out fixed dates in my calendar. Thanks to the flexibility ING offers me, I can, for example, use an extended lunch break do quickly dash to the gym or run errands – which is very convenient for me in my international role. On the other hand, in the evenings, when others have already finished work, I am sometimes still in the middle of a video call with New York.

What tips or advice do you have for young professionals who would like to take a similar step in their career?

If the opportunity presents itself, go for it - absolutely. At ING, for example, there are many colleagues and managers who are happy to help with professional and personal development and support career ambitions. That was exactly the case for me: I received full support both from Amsterdam and from my manager in Frankfurt. In addition, ING's network – especially in Wholesale Banking – is predestined for this kind of professional development due to its internationality. However, one thing must be clear: You have to be able to handle ING's agile way of working, which requires a high degree of flexibility and creativity, both for planning and for implementing the topics. These prerequisites, combined with self-discipline, clear focus, a large portion of empathy for people and paired with enthusiasm for the tasks, are almost a guarantee for a successful career beyond hierarchy levels.