Almudena Román

Director-General of ING Direct

“Digitalization means transferring power from the bank to the customer”

Is there still excessive bankization in Spain?

In Spain we are going to have to continue to create vehicles facilitating more access to financing for entrepreneurs for some years, not as a means of investing in capital but as a way of solving working capital issues and long-term needs in companies. Banks are going to continue to have a key role, simply because we are the only ones that have that banking license that imposes a lot of obligations on us but also allows us to safeguard our customers’ savings. Often, when you look at where all this financing is going, what it is spent on crowd-funding initiatives, or in venture capital initiatives and everything that we are seeing in terms of fundraising, you can see that it’s all risk capital. Yes, it is true that in Spain we are starting to see vehicles that are more clearly geared toward generating capital for new enterprises, and we have to keep working to create them. Banks are key players in this, and we are capable of immediately channeling funds in this direction, but this is just starting to happen now.

Since the crisis, do people think more in the long term in the banking world?

The measures that have been taken in countries have varied depending on the pressure that has been exerted within the society in question. In Holland, for example, bankers now sign a code of conduct that deals with personal liability. Meanwhile, there are other bodies working via the European Central Bank. Work is being done to standardize the banking sphere to a certain extent. Reputation management—I call this “authenticity”— is a proactive tool that we have to make use of in banking.

What does a European Capital Markets Union mean to you?

If we can come together and work together as a single market, we will be able to give European citizens opportunities in the form of the world’s third-largest market. And what would that offer? To put it simply, it would offer more efficiency, more harmonization, and more ease of operation. European banks have to work with a great many regulators all at once. For example, at ING we work with thirteen regulators, and this means that there are a great many barriers to harmonization, standardization, and unification. This means less efficiency and less clarity for European businesses and consumers.

How is digitalization changing the sector?

The banking business is pure software now. It isn’t so much that it is changing the sector; rather, we have entered a new era. That is to say, it’s a different production cycle. Digitalization means that we share this new territory—software—with a whole collection of other industries, and this forces us to ensure that customers have a very similar experience in very different spaces. We have to think in a different way and learn from this new place. And anything that comes from a previous age is probably a hindrance when it comes to taking advantage of everything that is coming in the future. Digitalization means transferring power from the bank to the customer. This requires reorganization, simplification, and a huge increase in transparency and immediacy in all of the services we provide. In ten years’ time all banks will be digital platforms. ING customers in Spain can do everything they want to do online, and about 20 percent of our customers exclusively use the website. And I’m not talking about the mobile channel but mobile phones. That is happening today, in Spain.