ING’s agile transformation

Two senior executives from the global bank describe their recent journey.

 

Established businesses around the world and across a range of sectors are striving to emulate the speed, dynamism, and customer centricity of digital players. In the summer of 2015, the Dutch banking group ING embarked on such a journey, shifting its traditional organization to an “agile” model inspired by companies such as Google, Netflix, and Spotify. Comprising about 350 nine-person “squads” in 13 so-called tribes, the new approach at ING has already improved time to market, boosted employee engagement, and increased productivity. In this interview with McKinsey’s Deepak Mahadevan, ING Netherlands chief information officer Peter Jacobs and Bart Schlatmann, who, until recently, was the chief operating officer of ING Netherlands, explain why the bank needed to change, how it manages without the old reporting lines, and how it measures the impact of its efforts.

 

The Quarterly: What prompted ING to introduce this new way of working?

 

Bart Schlatmann: We have been on a transformation journey for around ten years now, but there can be no let up. Transformation is not just moving an organization from A to B, because once you hit B, you need to move to C, and when you arrive at C, you probably have to start thinking about D.

 

In our case, when we introduced an agile way of working in June 2015, there was no particular financial imperative, since the company was performing well, and interest rates were still at a decent level. Customer behavior, however, was rapidly changing in response to new digital distribution channels, and customer expectations were being shaped by digital leaders in other industries, not just banking. We needed to stop thinking traditionally about product marketing and start understanding customer journeys in this new omnichannel environment. It’s imperative for us to provide a seamless and consistently high-quality service so that customers can start their journey through one channel and continue it through another—for example, going to a branch in person for investment advice and then calling or going online to make an actual investment. An agile way of working was the necessary means to deliver that strategy.

 

The Quarterly: How do you define agility?

 

Bart Schlatmann: Agility is about flexibility and the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt and steer itself in a new direction. It’s about minimizing handovers and bureaucracy, and empowering people. The aim is to build stronger, more rounded professionals out of all our people. Being agile is not just about changing the IT department or any other function on its own. The key has been adhering to the “end-to-end principle” and working in multidisciplinary teams, or squads, that comprise a mix of marketing specialists, product and commercial specialists, user-experience designers, data analysts, and IT engineers—all focused on solving the client’s needs and united by a common definition of success. This model [see exhibit] was inspired by what we saw at various technology companies, which we then adapted to our own business.