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Instilling The Spirit Of Innovation At ING

Erik Jacquemart is responsible for monitoring the strategic plan at ING Luxembourg and as such, he is also the “Chief Innovation Officer”. Indeed, innovation has a prominent place at ING, whether it’s created internally through innovation competitions, which have become increasingly popular with employees, or externally through collaboration with startups. How does a bank with 35 million customers and operations in 40 countries manage to remain at the forefront of technology? What can an accelerator program such as ING FinTech Village bring to the bank?
(Featured Image: Erik Jacquemart, Chief Innovation Officer at ING / Image Credit: Anna Katina)
How is ING involved in the startup environment and Fintech, especially in Luxembourg?

ING is a bank that offers, in Luxembourg, a wide range of business services to companies of all kinds, including startups. We are already the bank of choice for many startups, including those in the Fintech sector, and we offer services such as the management of their accounts and cash flow.

ING has created – on the sidelines of the bank – some Fintech startups: Payconiq, Twyp and, more recently, Yolt aggregator.

ING is definitely one of the most dynamic banks in the Fintech sector. ING works with more than fifty Fintech companies. Our size allows us to try out lots of Fintech products and services in different locations and, if successful, bring them to other countries. ING has acquired or bought stakes in several Fintech startups, proposed new services by integrating certain offerings, tested new designs with others and even created – on the sidelines of the bank – some Fintech startups: Payconiq, Twyp and, more recently, Yolt aggregator.

In Luxembourg, we are the only bank partnering with crowdfunding platforms. These are big names (Seedrs and KissKissBankBank), but we also continue to work with local Fintech startups when appropriate. Finally, in the Netherlands, we have a full team working on opportunities related to the Blockchain.

What is your role within ING?

As “Head of Bank Transformation” I coordinate major initiatives related to the implementation of our strategic plan. We aim to deliver to our customers a superior experience and to be their primary bank, and the one to which they will turn when they have a project. We are a universal bank and the number one bank in the Benelux region, where we have nearly 13 million customers. Furthermore, we have a long and recognized history as a digital banking institution with ING Direct, and that is helping us to implement our strategy.

Innovation plays a prominent role at ING. This includes our relationships and projects with Fintech startups and coordination with other entities of ING, in particular to identify innovations that can be brought to Luxembourg. It also influences the transformation of our corporate culture!

We have adopted a Lean Startup methodology, which provides the necessary agility and experimentation to help us effectively execute our more traditional projects. This is what is meant when we talk about ‘ working like a startup.
How is innovation encouraged internally at ING?

Alongside external innovation with Fintech partners, there is a clear commitment to creating a culture of innovation at ING.

To encourage innovation across our entities, we host internal competitions in which employees submit innovative ideas and receive coaching in order to develop their ideas. The fourth edition of the competition will start soon. The finalists win a budget for implementing their ideas. We also now have an internal incubator that supports the winning teams. It is through this competition and incubator program that some new Fintech startups were created by ING.

Another concrete example is the adoption of an innovative methodology largely inspired by the Lean Startup methodology. We have more and more coaches trained in the methodology and our internal accelerators help carry out innovative projects. Dedicated teams work for four months on a single project. This methodology also provides the agility and necessary experimentation to help us effectively execute our more traditional projects. This is what is meant when we talk about “working like a startup.”

We want to solve a serious problem: it is very difficult for startups to work with banks.
The second edition of ING Fintech Village has just been launched. What is it?

It is an acceleration program for startups that offer the bank technological solutions to meet a number of its challenges. Startups must be at a certain stage of maturity, i.e., ready with a Proof of Concept that can be implemented during the four-month accelerator program.

The goal from the outset was clear. We wanted to solve a serious problem: it is very difficult for startups to work with banks. Collaboration between startups and banks tends to take a lot of time and sometimes leads nowhere. It’s definitely not good for startups or the banks to let good opportunities pass. That is why the Belgian, Luxembourg and Dutch entities of ING collaborate with strong partners like Swift Innotribe, Deloitte and IBM, as well as serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists… We are committed to making all the required support for startups available. In particular, we want our senior managers out in the field to be able to quickly make decisions and mobilize bank resources.

What do you expect from this program?

We have a few different expectations. We hope, of course, to work on innovative solutions that will be implemented in the bank and benefit our customers.

But first we want startups to find exactly what they want: a partner who knows how to adapt and agility to test and improve their solutions. I must say that the first edition was a success and the first alumni – Belgian, English and Israeli – are excellent promoters of the program.

Finally, this is an outstanding opportunity for senior bank managers associated with the program. There are also three ING Luxembourg mentors participating in this edition. They will experience a very different world from the bank and it will be destabilizing, energizing and extremely rewarding, all at the same time. This is how we will accelerate the pace of innovation at ING.

Above all, I hope that Luxembourg startups will apply for the second edition of the program.

We must be able to recognize that often the best ideas come from outside. You need to know how to identify them and then bring them into the organization!
What are the major challenges facing banks?

They are numerous and well known: heavy regulation, disintermediation, consumer expectations constantly changing, etc. I will discuss instead two other challenges.

The first is being able to recognize that the best ideas often come from outside. You need to know how to identify them and then bring them into the organization!

The second is that banking will become increasingly invisible but crucial (much like the oxygen we breathe). This will make it more complicated for banks to demonstrate, and monetize, the added value these services bring to the customer.

What do you think about Luxembourg’s positioning of the Fintech sector?

I remember hearing the Minister of Economy of Luxembourg, Etienne Schneider, say earlier this year: “What Silicon Valley has in Tech, we have in Fin!” There are many positive elements of having a Fintech hub in Luxembourg and the ecosystem is quite conducive to it. Clearly things are happening, but speed is important because we are not the only country sharing this ambition. “Luxembourg must take advantage of its international attractiveness, collaborating and working closely with other Fintech centers and ecosystems.”It is essential to not rely on Luxembourg’s strengths alone. I really believe more in the setup of mature companies in Luxembourg that target a pan-European market (which we are already seeing happen) than the emergence of many local Fintech startups. We must also work on improving the weak points of Luxembourg’s startup ecosystem: the lack of specialized IT resources, limited entrepreneurial spirit, few venture capitalists despite Luxembourg being a leading financial center, etc., both to offset them in the short term and address them in the medium term.

Finally, I think it is essential to not fall into the trap of thinking “not invented here / not purely local”. Luxembourg must take advantage of its international attractiveness, collaborating and working closely with other Fintech centers and ecosystems. As such, ING FinTech Village is a component of the “extended” Fintech ecosystem in Luxembourg.


This article was first published in SILICON

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