ING’s chief innovation officer Annerie Vreugdenhil has had a 30-year journey of innovation without ever having to leave the bank.

More than 30 years ago, when Annerie Vreugdenhil started her career in financial services, people dressed up to visit a bank. An appointment with a bank manager was “a big deal”, she says.

That type of customer behaviour is “sort of gone”, says Ms Vreugdenhil, now ING’s chief innovation officer and head of the bank’s centralised innovation unit, ING Neo. What has remained, she says, is the role that banks play in the “moment of truth in people’s or business’s lives”.

Career history: Annerie Vreugdenhil 

  • 2021 ING, head of ING Neo/chief innovation officer 
  • 2018 ING, chief innovation officer, wholesale banking
  • 2016 ING, global head of real estate finance
  • 2010 ING, head of commercial banking, Netherlands
  • 2006 ING Commercial Banking, general manager, corporate clients

It is that role that lies at the heart of why the banking industry needs to embrace change and continue to innovate. “Banks are being disrupted, left, right and centre,” she says. However, despite the often-cited Bill Gates quote from 1994, ‘Banking is necessary, banks are not’, she says, “there are still reasons for [banks] to exist”. 

This comes down to human interactions and emotions, says Ms Vreugdenhil. “The entrepreneur who goes for a loan with a bank doesn’t just want money — it’s also the recognition ‘I've built a great company’,” she says. “You cannot completely create that with software.”

A central function

Much like how customers no longer dress up to visit a bank, banks themselves have radically changed over the past few decades. Illustrative of these changes is the establishment of ING Neo, which not only consolidated the bank’s disparate innovation units — wholesale, retail and group innovation — but operates as a separate business unit with its own profit and loss (P&L) responsibility. “To be sure, at the moment, it is largely an ‘L’,” says Ms Vreugdenhil. “But there’s definitely a strong push to also create revenues, make sure that we very much focus on creating new products and services for our clients, and create new business models.”

In addition to centralising the innovation functions at the bank, ING Neo is about redirecting the bank’s focus on innovation, she says. “One of the things we learned when we were innovating is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us, as a bank, to create any other start-up,” says Ms Vreugdenhil. “There are other people who are better at it than we are.” What ING Neo does instead is “innovate slightly closer to the bank and see where we can use the strengths of the bank to make sure that once something is created, we actually can really push it forward,” she explains.

ING Neo is organised around several aspects of the customer journey, she says. One example is housing. “We really want to be in people’s [housing journey] and help them with more than just the mortgage. The mortgage is at the end of the journey.”

Our mandate is to go for disruptive innovation

Annerie Vreugdenhil, ING

The bank is also focusing on innovating trade and supply chain finance, as well as looking to “disrupt lending for both consumers and small to mid-size companies, in addition to ING’s traditional client base of large corporations,” she says.  

One of the first products to come out of ING Neo is a digital vault called CoorpID. “CoorpID is where corporates can organise their documentation and share it with whoever needs it, such as all their banks, tax advisors or auditors,” she says. 

CoorpID not only benefits the client, but also the bank, says Ms Vreugdenhil. “We will get much more standardised information from a client than 20 emails, with all kinds of pieces of the puzzle,” she explains. “The way things often work right now is if the bank requests the CEO’s passport, it actually goes through [several email inboxes] in the bank, which is very unsafe.”

The big issues

According to Ms Vreugdenhil, one of the most difficult parts of innovation is the ability to “nail a really good problem”. The team at ING Neo start by looking at big problems to solve and ensure that they involve “the most important stakeholders in the bank”, with organised design sprints, workshops and feedback sessions. 

“Our mandate is to go for disruptive innovation,” she says. “If it improves our own systems, it has to be 10 times better, faster, and cheaper … for customers, it really has to be a new service or a product that they don’t have today.”

Ms Vreugdenhil’s 30 years at ING have been fuelled by a series of ‘starts’. She says that whenever she came to the end of a project or started thinking about looking outside the bank for a new role, ING offered a chance to start a new team or a new activity. “Sometimes, when I was very critical on how we built something, dealt with something, they said ‘Okay, you go and do it then’,” she says. “Basically, being given that opportunity all the time to grow and to make things happen is important to me.”

As for whether Ms Vreugdenhil could see herself in another career or a different path she says: “I don't know. I really like banking [and] financial services a lot.”


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