Sandrine De Vuyst (ING Luxembourg): Technology and Sustainability
ING Luxembourg is one of the institutions which provides a feeling of continuity in times of change, with a focus on investment and sustainable lending, says Sandrine De Vuyst, Head of Private Banking.
How has ING's Private Banking activity coped with the health crisis?
Luckily for us, remote working was already a large part of our corporate culture, and had been for quite some time - since 2011, to be precise. So, when we started seeing the initial impacts of Covid-19 in February, our employees returning from Asia had to quarantine, but they were able to continue working from home. A crisis committee for the Bank met regularly and ensured that the government recommendations were applied, as well as any additional rules decided by the ING group. At the beginning of March, we looked at the services we were providing and began to diversify our offer. We reviewed our network of branches across the country, and split the staff teams to ensure the right staffing levels for our different branches and sites. By mid-March, as soon as the CSSF and neighbouring countries authorised it, a very large proportion of ING Luxembourg staff started working from home - around 85% of our total staff. The remaining 15% were in the field, providing technical support or dealing with specific company requirements. We guaranteed a continuity of service in our business very quickly and efficiently: as a result, private banking’s financial results for March and April were good.
"Technology played, and still plays, a vital role, in providing us with appropriate tools for our internal needs and in providing the customer with the best service possible"
What role did technology play in the relationship with the client?
Technology played, and still plays, a vital role, in providing us with appropriate tools for our internal needs, and in providing the customer with the best service possible. Technology was essential in enabling our clients to access their data and the ING tools needed to manage their accounts. With regard to our internal requirements, we were able to move our meetings and conferences to digital devices, providing the safety of remote meetings to our staff and customers. We are starting to look at new interactive platforms that will allow us to carry on offering these video conference meetings to our clients. Although there are of course significant changes going on in the markets at the moment, our clients are nonetheless much more confident than they were during the 2008 crisis. Among other things, this is testimony to the excellent support provided by ING at the height of the crisis. We also use technology to automatically export KPIs in order to better monitor our customer relations, with the aim of ensuring that our level of support and advice remains consistent, even when this is provided remotely. Our customers are actually asking us more and more for digital options, although our surveys show that they still rate the relationship with their account manager as the most important aspect of their banking.
What challenges and opportunities do you identify in private banking over the next five years?
ING is constantly searching for new opportunities, and right now we are mainly focusing on sustainable investment and credit. Our company has a great deal of experience in this area, with teams specialising in this subject for over ten years. We are currently working on turning our entire range of ING Aria Lion funds into sustainable funds. We had already started this process last year with the ING Aria Sustainable Bonds fund. In 2019, our fund was awarded the prestigious ESG Luxflag label, a label which is recognised for its high standards and is only awarded to funds committed to genuinely responsible investments. In 2020, this same fund was also awarded the “toward sustainability” label by Febelfin, a Belgian sustainability label which has some of the strictest criteria in Europe. We now make sure that the notion of sustainability is built in to all of our investments and the entire range of products we offer our clients. As for the significant savings that many clients accumulated during the Covid-19 crisis, we believe that this could provide a boost to investments in the coming months. However, against a backdrop of negative interest rates, we are expanding our range of loans and focusing on the quality of these loans.
In the area of private loans, international mortgage products - France, Switzerland, Spain - allow clients to invest and to diversify their assets at attractive rates, as cash earns no interest right now. When it comes to private banking services, our offer is still accessible, thanks to the favourable environment provided by Luxembourg. The Grand-Duchy has considerable multi-jurisdictional expertise in fiscal matters, planning and succession. This will be a real asset for the years to come, especially as the subjects become more complex and the sector more fast-moving. Having said that, in the future, legislation - AML, MIFID, GDPR, PS2D regulations - will be a real challenge, and compliance often requires significant investment. Moreover, Luxembourg remains a very competitive market: there are over 60 banks operating there. We need to find the balance between great customer service and a certain level of profitability.