ING Groep N: “The future is now” – Ron

Six months ago Ron van Kemenade became ING’s very first Chief Technology Officer (CTO). It was more than a symbolic gesture. Technology has become essential for banks to remain relevant for years to come. So, are we ready for the future? And how’s life in the boardroom? An interview with Ron.

Ron van Kemenade, Chief Technology Officer

How do you see the future of banking?

If you consider the whole banking landscape, it has become more open and more complex. New players, including Big Tech, have embarked on transactions with services such as Apple Pay or Amazon Checkout. The fintechs offer solutions in the areas of credit and even companies like Booking.com have developed their own payment products. New technologies, whether regulated or not, are on the rise, such as distributed ledger technology and cryptocurrencies. Then there are the customers, who want to do all their banking online and in real time, and finally the regulator, which protects customer privacy and tries to steer banks towards stability. How all of this will interact and what it means for the future of the bank, I can’t say exactly. But the trends are clear and it is obvious that we have some difficult and interesting times ahead of us. So we have to try to find ways to play a leading role.

How should ING prepare for this?

It is not so much about preparing, because the future is today. So, we shouldn’t wait for things to happen, but act now. Focus on the things that matter most to customers, like bringing new proposals to market and investing heavily in digitalization. This requires experimenting, but also listening to customers to have continuous feedback. In addition, we must ensure that our services become even more resilient, secure and in real time.

Are we ready to act now?

On the technology side, we are. We have built a global technology platform, which includes modular IT building blocks, shared data lakes and ING’s private cloud. Many countries use these components for both global and local proposals. These not only allow us to be more efficient and scalable, but also allow us to act faster in a safe and secure manner. For example, we were able to build a retail bank in the Philippines in just nine months using global components like Touchpoint. Germany’s new investment platform also uses components such as OnePam, for storing customer data, and OneGate, for authenticating customers.

It is very important to keep the bank safe, secure and compliant. It just takes precedence over the next cool feature.

– Ron van Kemenade

What do customers want in terms of technology?

They want the bank to be digital, personalized and in real time without having to worry about protecting their data. Being personalized forces us to collect a lot of data in real time to give customers the right offer while wanting their data to be fully protected. So, it’s a bit ambiguous.

What is our highest priority?

It is very important to keep the bank safe, secure and compliant. It just takes precedence over the next cool feature. That said, this is a balancing act as we also need to constantly adjust products to meet customer demands and invest in our channels to make them more digital.

What about sustainability? How does Tech contribute to it?

Data centers are one of the biggest consumers of electricity in the world. Just to give you an example, all the energy needed to support Bitcoin is the equivalent of the energy a country like New Zealand uses each year. It’s huge. I’m not saying we’re doing the same, but more digital interactions with the bank require additional data storage and more fully digitized channels and processes mean more servers in our data centers. They all lead to greater energy consumption. This is why we use 100% green energy and we try to make our servers as energy efficient as possible.

To remain competitive in a world of technological disruption, highly qualified engineers are essential. Are we winning the talent war for tech workers?

In some countries yes, especially where we are considered a major employer like the Netherlands and Romania. But in countries where we are less present, we must strengthen ourselves and make ourselves more visible and attractive. It’s not easy when you’re a little player.

What does ING offer engineers?

Engineers love to work with the most modern technologies and love to code. So we make sure we provide them with the right tools and allow them to work in an environment where they can do what they love to do. We recently launched an initiative for this called NextGen Tech.

Why was it important for ING to integrate technology into the Board of Directors?

Technology plays a very important role in the future of banking, so you need a board member who has extensive knowledge of the subject. Someone who can put the technological perspective into every discussion and decision we make. It is also something that we expect from our regulators.

Your domain includes technology, data management, and the Chief Information Security Office (CISO). How are they interconnected?

There are several connections between domains. For example, many engineers work for information security purposes, while our RSSI department sets requirements on how engineers work. Data is closely related to technology because we store it in our systems and use it for our processes.

To become a data-driven digital leader, was it necessary to bring them together?

Well that helps. But becoming a data-driven digital bank is something for all of us. So all functions should be included.

You started six months ago, what has your experience been so far?

So far I have had a lot of fun. It’s a great team to work with and I love bringing the Tech perspective to the discussions. It feels good to contribute to ING and its future.

What do you find difficult?

I want to have a thorough understanding of all relevant Council topics, so that I can form an opinion and make a meaningful contribution. There just isn’t enough time to go through them all, so sometimes I need to compromise which I don’t like.

Which IT project are you most proud of?

It is not the projects, but the people in the CTO field that I am most proud of. They run the bank and try to make it more reliable and better, every day. I want to thank them for that.

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