How rebuilding trust creates a win-win situation

A new era of economic and social volatility is challenging banks and their clients while the effects of the financial crisis are still deeply felt - so how is ING changing its behaviour and becoming the bank that our clients really need?

“A number of emerging megatrends have brought a new volatility to financial markets,” says Mark Pieter de Boer, global head of Financial Markets Sales at ING. These include a world of low interest rates, quantitative easing, deflation and bubbles growing and bursting. The trends further destabilise a world facing a whole host of other challenges, ranging from the economic problems of the Eurozone to conflict with Russia over Ukraine, the increasingly unstable situation in the Middle East and the surge in refugees that has created as well as longer term challenges such as demographic shifts and climate change.

Mark Pieter de Boer portrait

All of these developments are destabilising the financial industry and their clients. “More and more, clients are looking for a bank that can get them through this volatility and help them to create a stable business in an era of instability,” he adds.

At the same time, one of the outcomes of the crisis is that the reputation of banks and the level of trust in them hit an all-time low. Banks that want to rebuild this trust and credibility must develop a new culture, a set of values, attitudes and behaviours.

This ties in with the dawn of ‘the ethical age’, which sees companies wanting to do business in a more sustainable way through new business models such as the circular economy. And all of these changes are taking place in the midst of a technological revolution in fields ranging from social media to artificial intelligence to nanotech, overlaid by the digitisation of everything.

“Financial markets were driven very much by IQ in the past. That’s not enough anymore.” – Mark Pieter de Boer, ING

Against this background, banks’ previous focus on creating innovative products and selling them individually from different bank silo’s to clients, regardless of whether this was the best thing for the client’s total business model or environment, is no longer tenable. Companies want their banks investing in customer service and solutions that they need, not on what they can be sold. For ING, this has meant re-examining the skills required to advise a sustainable business and earn the primary relationship based on trust. A business built on the brainpower of its workforce is now looking to add a more creative and social approach.

The Journey and the TRUST equation

The journey started two years ago, bringing the social aspects of emotional intelligence into the way of leadership, communication, performance and consequence management and training. De Boer, “As an example, we are as of this year evaluating continuously and informally, giving constant feedback to our people on not only results, but also on Orange Code behaviours. Our training program has changed fundamentally, the key is now the TRUST equation where trust is an expression not only of how credible and reliable you are, but also how emotionally close and open you are. And we needed to work on decreasing selfish drivers, as they stand in the way of client intimacy.”

The overriding theme guiding this new approach is the need to rebuild trust. Whereas previously bankers sold themselves on the basis of their credibility and reliability only, this new approach requires them to create a more intimate relationship with clients as well as to change the way they see themselves (their self-orientation). This results more in a win-win situation, where banker and client are ‘in it together’.

Embedding the Orange Code

ING FM’s new approach is embedded in its Orange Code, which sets out how employees are expected to behave, a set of values and behaviours backed up by the company’s top executives, articulating the value of focusing on emotional intelligence.

All 350 FM Sales staff have undertaken an intensive EQ programme “training them on soft skills like being aware of your own feelings and those of others, regulating these feelings in yourself and others, using emotions that are appropriate to the situation, self-motivation, and building relationships,” De Boer says. 

Management sets the example, for instance by entering one-on-one meeting by openly having a discussion about the shared objectives on the table. The international communications program is developed to continually reinforce the new way of working with appropriate tools such as banners, posters, email and videos.  

A new transparency

While the initial focus was on development of staff, ING Financial Market Sales is now moving into a new phase of training that emphasises how greater awareness translates into dealing with clients.

“We are starting to provide clients the building blocks of pricing, giving insights to what they are paying for.”

One of the aspects of rebuilding trust that is most eye-catching is a new transparency on costs. “We are starting to provide clients the building blocks of pricing, giving insights to what they are paying for, which is not something a lot of banks do because they are afraid of losing business. We don’t want to be in a position where we only compete on a price determined by the market. We want to get the price discussion off the table. We want a personal, value-added approach,” he says.

And it’s working!

And to those who say that such woolly notions as EQ have no place in banking, he highlights some tangible benefits. A McKinsey survey on the culture of the bank found that ING FM Sales ranks above the industry norm, and that it has higher staff engagement relative to its peers. People are more motivated and there is greater collaboration between departments, ith productivity increasing by 10%.

Clients like the new approach as well, seeing it as a refreshing change from their dealings with other banks. “Our growth is above the industry norm but more importantly, 80% of that growth is coming from existing clients, showing the positive effect that this approach has in terms of customer loyalty.” 

This positive client reaction has translated into an industry leading increase in revenues at a time when the sector has been under pressure. Indeed, says De Boer: “We have seen clients taking an interest in our training materials because they can see how it has changed the way we work. We may get to the point where we do some of this training together with clients,” he adds. “Much of the time we are sat opposite our customers and each side is trying to second-guess what the other is thinking. If we have been through the same training process together, there is no need for that.”


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