Conversation with Almudena Román, CEO of Reailing Banking at ING Spain. October 2020
ING, the Dutch entity that markets itself as “the bank that is not a bank” celebrated twenty years in our country just a little over a year ago. Its headquarters have always been in the Community of Madrid, although it started out in the suburbs —close to Pozuelo and Las Rozas— and has recently changed to the city of Madrid itself. Its new offices are in Campo de las Naciones, although the pandemic has delayed the move and accelerated the implementation of remote work.
We spoke with Almudena Román, Director of Banking for Individuals, about the move and other current issues. “The new headquarters is designed with this model in mind [100% free teleworking] and has the appropriate technology,” she advances.
M.I.A: ING arrived in Spain in 1999 and positioned itself as a bank without physical branches. 21 years later, there are already several 100% digital banks or ‘neobanks’. How does ING stand now? Do you feel more like a ‘neobank’, a fintech company or a traditional retail bank?
A.R: I think our last campaign reflects very well what we are: “a bank that is not a bank”. We have the best of both worlds: the strength of traditional banking and the enthusiasm and desire to help and adapt of the new digital players.
ING has a native digital model, which gives us the ability to adapt to a context in which the delivery of value to the customer has to be constant. Furthermore, since our arrival in Spain, we have been a lever of change for the sector because our way of doing banking has been and continues to be different. From the beginning, our obsession has been our customers: being honest with them and building our model around their needs are our priorities. We have been pioneers in co-creating the products we offer with our clients, something that is now becoming a standard in technology companies.
M.I.A: In this changing environment, what are the main challenges for ING in Spain? What does the customer ask for and what does he need? Are there significant differences with other countries in which you operate?
A.R: Local particularities have more to do with specific product needs, but relations with the customer are the same. Beyond the fact that obviously everything has to go through the digital channel, companies must focus on understanding how to respond to a client who is short of time, demanding and well informed, has multiple options at his fingertips and lives in an uncertain and changing world.
In this environment, ING has a clear objective: to offer simple and easy to understand products and services. This sounds easy, but many factors come into play. One of the main ones is analyzing all the data we have to better understand what the client needs at all times. In addition, doing so in a responsible way, that is to say: that we are an agent that adds to the sustainable development of our environment. The challenge is exciting and demanding.
M.I.A: ING already has around 1,400 employees in Spain, experiencing organic growth since its arrival. In addition to serving the national market, since mid-2016 you have had an innovation center in Madrid specialized in technology applied to business. What factors are behind ING’s growth in Madrid? What are the competencies of the innovation center and why was Madrid chosen? How does your activity fit in with that of other centers that the group has in Europe?
A.R: Thanks to our native digital model, Spain has become a benchmark for the ING Group in terms of innovation and in how we relate to clients. In this way, we play a very active role in the Group’s projects where we contribute our knowledge and experience in these fields. The innovative ecosystem that has always characterized ING Spain has been one of the fundamental factors for the Group’s decision to locate its project to create a common platform for several countries in Madrid. The development is based on the pioneering digital relationship model that ING has implemented here.
M.I.A: From the beginning, ING has had its headquarters for Spain in Madrid. Initially, near Pozuelo, then in Las Rozas, and recently you have changed to Campo de las Naciones. What has determined the successive changes? Does the city center exert a certain pull? Have you ever considered moving the headquarters to another city?
A.R: The various changes of headquarters have been determined by the growth of our business, staff numbers and the need for premises that enable us to provide the best service possible to our clients. Though our needs regarding work space have evolved, the Community of Madrid has always been the place where we wanted to be.
On the other hand, in recent years being near the center of Madrid has been a key element for attracting talent. This has been one of the main factors when choosing the location of our new headquarters. We are very happy and excited because for the first time we are all going to work together in the same space and we are going to have facilities that respond to the new environment we are living in. These reflect our way of being: they are safe, flexible, dynamic and sustainable. In addition, they will allow us to carry out our 100% free work model, since it has the necessary technological means to combine working from home and at the office.
M.I.A: ING has just integrated Bizum, a request that many clients had. What is your opinion of this initiative, promoted by all the large Spanish banks, and how was the integration process?
A.R: ING always listens to its customers and if they like Bizum, so do we. That is why we had to join this initiative. The process has been straightforward and the results are hardly disappointing: in only three weeks 400,000 of our clients have registered on the platform, a great success!
M.I.A: The pandemic has suddenly changed the way of working. In this sense, ING announced in June that it was implementing a 100% free teleworking model. What is it and how is it working these first months? Will head offices and branches need to be adapted in the medium term?
A.R: Although teleworking was already a reality at ING, we had been testing different models on various bank computers for several months. The one that we saw that had a greater fit due to the valuation of our professionals and the results obtained was the 100% free model. COVID-19 only accelerated the processes: we had to implement it throughout the organization in record time and we can safely say that it works very well.
We are very satisfied to be the first large company in Spain that gives its professionals the option between to working from home or in the office, reconciling their personal life with their professional goals. This decision is also accompanied by a set of measures that seek to facilitate time management and respect for professionals’ personal lives, guaranteeing digital disconnection.
The new headquarters is designed with this model in mind: it has dynamic and open spaces, quiet zones, meeting rooms, relaxed spaces to foster teamwork, etc.
M.I.A: How will access to talent change with this teleworking model? What attractions does Madrid retain in this new reality? Does it lose any?
A.R: It is clear that the pandemic is going to change companies and the lives of many workers. We are in a fast changing world and it is difficult to guess what will remain and what aspects will be more temporary. In my opinion, flexibility is going to be very important. That is, give the professional the confidence to organize freely. In the pilot tests that we carried out with different telework models, we observed that this freedom was a highly valued factor, and most opted for a mixed model (face-to-face and remote). Physical contact is very important because it encourages collaboration, innovation and a sense of belonging. That is why I believe that Madrid will continue to maintain its leading role as the main city to develop business activity and a space for innovation and collaboration.
M.I.A: ING has been very active in platforms such as the Multinationals Association for Marca España. Have you ever collaborated directly with the Madrid City Council?
A.R: We have a very close relationship with the public administrations, be it at a local, regional or national level, and we have collaborated with them whenever necessary. In the case of the Madrid City Council, we have a very close relationship due to the location of our new headquarters and our objective of contributing to the local community and sustainable development. For example, having a sustainable mobility plan has been a priority within the measures we have implemented in our new building and we believe that it will also contribute in a very positive way to the mobility of the city itself.
M.I.A: As a large company established in the city, in what areas do you need assistance? What about new foreign companies that want to establish themselves in Madrid?
A.R: Madrid’s business climate is very open and attractive for large companies. It is important to continue working on promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. For large companies this is essential, since it fosters a competitive environment of continuous learning, synergies and the possibility of having well qualified professionals.