Mihaela Bitu, ING Bank Romania: “Our strong focus on digital transformation and customer experience will continue to be the main drivers for us in 2021”
“The economy will recover gradually in 2021, while some part of the population and business community will still be affected. This context, together with the realizations brought by the pandemic, will not allow us to return to the pre-pandemic situation, but neither does it call for a total reset. One needs to reflect over its business model and adjust course as appropriate,” Mihaela Bitu, CEO ING Bank Romania, told The Diplomat-Bucharest.
“At ING, we have a strategy oriented on innovation and customer experience that remains valid in the current context, but naturally we also adjust our next steps and choices, so that we respond in the best way to the changed context. As a constant, we will continue to support our clients, especially the vulnerable ones, as we have done in prior years and during pandemic.”
What do you think will be the main business drivers for business growth in your company in 2021?
Our strong focus on digital transformation and customer experience will continue to be the main drivers for ING Romania in 2021. Our business model has constantly promoted digital/ mobile banking and we intend to further capitalize on this strategy. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital and mobile banking services by the general public. We trust that with clients having initiated a digital behaviour last year, they have also come to appreciate the speed and convenience of such services. Hopefully, this will encourage them to continue accessing banking products anytime, anywhere. And to offer some impressive statistics of last year: 1 million digital users logged in 220 million times in Home’Bank, where mobile accounts for 94% of the traffic. In December 2020 alone we had 23,5 million visits in the online platform, which means an increase of 50% compared to the same period of 2019.
The market will continue to offer opportunities in 2021, although we expect prudence to mark the behaviour of individuals and corporates altogether. Consumer confidence will naturally influence the lending demand and we hope that the improving situation of the sanitary crisis will allow as many people as possible to continue and even initiate plans and projects. And to “do their thing”, as we like to say at ING.
Will we assist to a Great Reset-oriented strategy in business or returning to business-as-usual?
The economy will recover gradually in 2021, while some part of the population and business community will still be affected. This context, together with the realizations brought by the pandemic, will not allow us to return to the pre-pandemic situation, but neither does it call for a total reset. One needs to reflect over its business model and adjust course as appropriate. At ING, we have a strategy oriented on innovation and customer experience that remains valid in the current context, but naturally we also adjust our next steps and choices, so that we respond in the best way to the changed context. As a constant, we will continue to support our clients, especially the vulnerable ones, as we have done in prior years and during pandemic.
The COVID-19 crisis has been a big disruptor, bringing unprecedented uncertainty and change, but also accelerated existing key trends such as digitalization, flexible ways of working, awareness about sustainability and building more resilient business models. Despite all bad, this pandemic taught us valuable lessons. Last but not least, it brought a wake-up call for humanity, with sustainability likely to play a more prominent role across many industries. It’s not only us saying it, but also research indicates a clear trend in this direction.
What is the flag-ship project of 2020 in your company?
First of all, we take pride in being able to take immediate steps, since the outbreak of the pandemic, to support our clients overcoming difficult situations. These included payment holidays for both individuals and SMEs, identifying customized solutions for clients, as well as assuming an active role in the IMM Invest program. We continued to support financial education and we donated over 3 million RON, together with ING Tech, in the fight against the Covid-19 virus.
The ING teams managed to adapt very quickly and executed an impressive number of projects and initiatives. Our agile way of working supported us and so we are pleased that we were as productive in the pandemic as before, with minor exceptions. Consequently, we continued to develop and maintained our position as the fourth largest bank in terms of assets, while investing significant resources in the safety and resilience of our business.
Among the important initiatives of the year: a richer and more intuitive experience in Home’Bank with the transition to a native mobile technology, the launch of our 7FIX mortgage product, the new savings service Round Up enabling effortless saving, card less ATM withdrawals, the possibility to add credit card in ING Pay, as well as the launch of Google Pay from the first day it became available for Romania.
From the Wholesale Banking/ corporate perspective, a highlight was the first issue of green bonds of 500 million euros for our client NEPI Rockcastle (the largest owner of shopping centers in Central and Eastern Europe), used to refinance its portfolio of sustainable buildings and energy efficiency projects.
What kind of workspace culture & values is to be consolidated in your company in 2021?
As a global bank, we have the great opportunity (and responsibility) to make an impact for a better world. Integrity and responsibility stay at the core of our culture. We have a significant role in the society by financing change and integrating sustainability into the business. This year, we’ll also encourage our teams to play an even more active role in different projects regarding sustainability.
Our meritocratic culture ensures equal opportunities for all employees. Empowering people has always been our mission and ING employees are motivated to be autonomous, make things happen and take responsibility for the end-to-end delivery of the results. Agility is another ability that defines us. Working remotely did not dilute our core values and our special corporate culture, and this is extremely important for the future success of our business.
What is a manager’s role and skills in order to maintain and enhance a team’s cohesion?
In ING, communication (and continuous listening) represents a vital process in consolidating a healthy organizational culture and this is embraced by every manager. We run our regular surveys and engage in relevant dialogues to find out employees’ needs and the challenges they face. And employees have always appreciated the transparency and consistency of our messages.
Working remotely can be challenging in terms of a team’s cohesion, we are all in the end social creatures who naturally feel the lack of offline interactions. That’s why we focused, and we’ll continue to focus on many actions regarding HR and internal communication, meant to increase motivation, engagement, and cohesion of the teams. It is important to show that we appreciate efforts of our people and to never forget to celebrate success, regardless how small or big they may be.
In term of general business & teams’ core-values, which are your 3 power words for 2021?
Responsibility, adaptability, innovation.