Nick Jue on Transforming ING Netherlands and Introducing an Agile Way of Working

An Interview with the CEO of ING Germany


With fintechs and other new players disrupting the financial services sector, traditional institutions need to be faster and more flexible than ever before. ING Netherlands is one bank that responded to the new market dynamics by adopting agile practices, completely changing the way it works.

Nick Jue, who has been with ING since 1993, is currently the CEO of ING in Germany. In his previous role as CEO of ING Netherlands, he introduced an agile way of working in order to best position the company to respond to new competitors and find new sources of advantage in a rapidly changing world.

Nick Jue

Nick spoke with Martin Danoesastro, a senior partner and managing director in The Boston Consulting Group’s Amsterdam office, about the reasoning behind and the results of the company’s transformation, and the key success factors. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

You successfully led ING Netherlands through three different transformations. What were the key success factors across those transformations?

In every transformation, one of the key elements is having a very inspiring vision, because you have to explain exactly what this transformation will bring to employees and customers. They have to understand why it’s important to do it and be inspired by it.

Another element is having a fact-based case for change. You have to know what it means for your margins and your volumes, and what it will bring in different economic scenarios. Facts make your case for change very powerful.

Last, you need a strong team to get through a transformation. You can have a lot of discussions and a lot of debates throughout the process, but when you get into execution mode you need a team that fully supports the vision and really goes for it.

In your most recent transformation, you completely changed the culture and way of working to agile. And I remember that you used the analogy of a large elephant racing against greyhounds to illustrate what ING Netherlands had gone through. Why is that?

This picture of an elephant being chased by greyhounds is exactly how people look at banks. People view banks as big, inflexible animals, and they are chased every day by “greyhounds” such as fintechs and other new companies.

What I try to do is train our organization, the elephant, to be as fast and as flexible as a greyhound. I want to remain an elephant, because I want to keep the power of the elephant. But I also want to be fast and flexible.

Why would a bank want to be as fast as a greyhound?

The world around us is changing rapidly. We’re not competing just against the traditional institutions, so to stay relevant to our customers we need to innovate. With the switch to internet banking and mobile banking, the preferred channel for customers has changed, and the number of customer contacts has exploded.

So with new technology and new competitors, we really had to change very quickly. Clinging to the past was not going to make us future-proof.

But as the world around you is changing so rapidly, how do you know which direction to take?

That was exactly the question we asked ourselves. If you don’t know the direction, which one do you take? Do you jump on every new development? Do you pick one and just go for it?

Alternately, you can adapt your organization in such a way that you’re flexible if trends change, and you can adapt very quickly. I think we came to the conclusion that the only way to do this is to become agile, to start the agile way of working. This was the only way to be able to adapt very quickly to trends and developments.

What did you try to change about the way of working in the organization?

There are a few things. One of them is collaboration, and what I mean by that is removing obstacles so that teams and individuals can work more effectively together.

Another thing is empowering people, giving people a higher level of responsibility. People can decide things themselves, so they feel more empowered and more passionate.

And last but not least, I would say culture. Next to structure and organization, you need a strong culture—and you need to implement it in every detail in the organization.

ING Netherlands was one of the first traditional companies to completely transform to an end-to-end agile way of working. What advice do you have for companies who want to change their way of working as well?

BCG took us to Zappos and Spotify, companies completely outside our own industry, and they inspired us in the way they did things. Subsequently, BCG helped us by designing and implementing a model based on the inspiration we got from those companies.

Next to that, I would say: think boldly and dare to change. When you start a change process to become more efficient and improve the company and you aim for 5%, at the end the outcome will be incremental. If you start the whole change process with the idea of improving by 50%, then you probably will end up around 40%—but it will be much more than the outcome from the other approach.

So my advice to anyone going through this process would be to look outside for inspiration, think boldly, and dare to change.