ING WB network country strategy blueprint on the way

The strategy for ING Wholesale banking’s network countries is taking shape and is due to be completed in the next month. Ernst Hoff, head of the group, which comprises Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, the Nordic countries (which are grouped together as a single operational unit by ING WB), Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland and Ukraine, will shortly have visited all country offices as part of efforts to develop a blueprint for the future.


“The experience has been useful to understand the position and needs of clients and staff and the market circumstances in each country,” says Hoff. “While these trips have served to underline the diversity of the group of countries where ING offers solely wholesale banking, they have also highlighted similarities in the challenges and the opportunities that our businesses face. It is these similarities that inform our strategy.”


As well as giving Hoff an opportunity to meet staff, his trips to group countries have enabled staff to learn more about his views. Around two-thirds of meetings have been internal – largely with country management teams – and one third has been with external parties, including clients, regulators and other banks. In early March, a strategy session helped to refine further the observations and themes that Hoff had identified during his trips since he assumed the post in November.


Challenges common to the nine network markets include the need for ING to differentiate itself from the competition, the importance of identifying what products and services the bank should offer (and which it should not) and how to secure eurodollar funding. Another common theme across all group countries is how to respond to the ongoing trend of disintermediation of banks, which is impacting ING’s capital markets coverage.


The plan for the network group of countries will be based on ING Wholesale Bank’s ‘strategy on the page’ concept, which summarises the goals and approach of the bank in a succinct way. The broader Wholesale Bank’s purpose is to empower people to get a step ahead in life and business, its promise is to be clear, easy to work with, available anytime and anywhere, and aim to continually improve. The strategic priorities for the bank are to be the primary relationship bank for a client, understand them better, and think beyond traditional banking products while enablers for the business are simplification, streamlining, operational excellence and improved lending capabilities.


“Our goal is to take the strategy of the Wholesale Bank and translate it for our group of countries,” explains Hoff. “We’ve identified three elements for our strategy. Firstly, being an international network bank is critical; secondly, we have differentiating product capabilities, including working capital management, foreign exchange and structured finance. Thirdly, we have a clearly defined culture and way of behaving that includes being open, transparent, straightforward, predictable and trusted. We don’t aim to be glamourous or make claims that we can’t back up.”


These three elements will inform how ING operates in each of its network countries. “In the next month, we will refine these further and add detail,” says Hoff. “For example, in capital markets we will create a roadmap to outline how we will get from the current situation to one that responds to the changing market environment and enables us, through our capabilities, to secure a primary relationship with a client. Similarly, in terms of our culture, we will develop concrete guidelines that articulate what happens when people underperform so that staff expectations are appropriate.”


While network countries will offer a common customer experience, there will also be similarities with what is available in countries where ING has both wholesale and retail banking. “I have had contact with the Wholesale Bank in Germany and elsewhere to ensure our observations and strategy are aligned with others in the broader bank,” says Hoff. ‘’Obviously it is essential that a customer that works with us in Germany, which is a non-network country, and the Czech Republic, which is a network country, has a similar experience.”


A final document, detailing all aspects of the network group of countries’ strategy will be completed in the next 30 days. The board will then be informed and is expected to approve it. Implementation will begin soon after. “This is an exciting period for ING,” says Hoff. “In the past years we have enjoyed a tremendous financial turnaround that required us to focus on internal issues. Now we can become more outward and forward-looking. During my meetings with clients in the past few months, these changes in tone and direction have been uniformly welcomed”.