Past success guarantees nothing: Benoit Legrand, CIO of ING

Dhanum Nursigadoo
5min read

Dutch directness, failing fast and innovating endlessly are the three common themes in the interview Simon did with Benoit Legrand, CIO of ING. And they’re what drives his approach to delivering success at ING.

Embodying the core values of ING, Benoit Legrand is afraid to flaunt the Dutch directness learned at the company when Simon asks him what podcasts he listens to (other than Fintech Insiders, of course). It turns out that podcasts aren’t really Benoit’s thing. He’s more focused on delivering innovative products globally.

Unsuccessful startup experience

It’s no surprise that that’s where Benoit’s focus lies, ING’s retail customer base consists of 38 million consumers sprawled out across Europe. And Benoit focuses on the Global innovation retails and wholesale aspect of that service.

It’s a huge host of varied territories and regulatory requirements. He’s tried many ideas and approaches during his tenure in financial services, not all of them were successful but they all taught him something. And that’s why Benoit doesn’t regret his past experiences.

Failing fast and learning quickly is a positive thing, accepting mistakes and more importantly, learning from them is where the Americans really excel over Europe. The rite of passage in Silicon Valley of taking your best shot and having it turn out unexpectedly is a relatively new concept in Europe, but it’s where Benoit insists he learned so much.

Benoit on his startup experience

The CIO describes himself as having ‘unsuccessful startup experience’. But only in the financial sense of success, after all, no project is a wasted experience if you can take something useful from it. It’s one of these varying degrees of success that Benoit found to be a teachable moment - that past success is no guarantee of future brilliance.

Benoit had partnered up with other entrepreneurs who had succeeded in building and exiting companies in the past. Keen to not miss out on a proven winning formula he got on board with their strategy, unfortunately, it didn’t work out.

It’s a lesson that’s stuck with Benoit as he moved from his startup to ING, which he describes as the world’s oldest fintech. The retail bank has a minority market-share in most of the markets it operates in, so behaving like a challenger is a necessity rather than a luxury.

Create without fear

Benoit remarks that no matter what ING does there are no guarantees of success, something that’s true of every bank, but few embrace the reality of risk. Fewer still move to create truly innovative products.

Innovation in a large organisation requires a great deal of protection, to operate in small teams and prevent others from taking the project for themselves. No easy task. Securing useful new services through the ING brand requires the leadership team to be fully on-board with innovation itself.

So while other banks view PSD2 as a threat, ING opted to grab hold of the opportunity and launch Yolt. The money management tool has been wildly successful in the UK alone, reaching over 500K customers - that’s greater reach than some challenger banks.

Benoit on why PSD2 is an opportunity

But ING doesn’t only rely on internal ideas. The company has scouted 1600 fintechs, partnered with 160 and ended 60 partnerships in a short space of time. That’s a lot more relationships than the average bank would commit to in a decade.

Benoit’s attitude towards partnering with fintechs is driven by pragmatism. There’s no compunction about saying no to what doesn’t work or fit, utilising the refreshing directness found in ING’s culture.

Just because the partner is successful independently, doesn’t mean that a partnership will be successful. It’s why ING had to put a stop to the 60 partnerships that weren’t a good fit for the company.

Relationships need to be driven by strategy, so the depth of their integration is dictated by how it will impact the customer relationship. The 160 fintech partnerships are a mix of long-term, equity deals and light touch arrangements to achieve proof of concept.

It remains to be seen how all the partnerships and innovation at ING will play out in the market, but one thing’s for sure - ING isn’t going to become complacent simply because of past successes.

Listen to the episode for the full story here.