Since its establishment in 1994, ING Bank Romania has always been a bit different. "Let’s put it this way," CEO Mihaela Bitu says. "Maybe we come across as the most non-bank of the Romanian banks."
The company, part of the global ING Group, has introduced several firsts to the country’s banking sector. In 2018, for example, it took the bold step of completely moving away from human-assisted counters in its sales network.
"There were risks involved, but with the customer base that we have, we believed in it, and we had the courage to take that step," Mihaela says. "We have never regretted it, and we have not seen clients leaving us because of this."
ING Bank Romania is also the only bank to have reached the top 10 in the market with organic growth alone – something that has helped preserve a unique and bold corporate culture.
"Maybe we come across as the most non-bank of the Romanian banks."
"From the very beginning, we came up with a lot of new things," Mihaela says. "We’ve always used technology. We’ve always used innovation in the customer experience. They are small revolutions."
The company also has a distinctive business model: its sales network is made up not of its own employees, but of individual business partners who invest in the bank in return for being involved in the development of the business.
This drive to go against the grain is reflected in the quirky and irreverent way the bank communicates with its customers. Drawing on ING’s global marketing strategy, ING Romania’s ad campaigns choose a lighthearted, oddball approach where many other financial institutions opt for a serious tone.
"I think the tone of our communication has been very different," Mihaela says. "This image is actually not a fake image. It’s very much in line with how we are as an organisation, but it projects the image of a fresh organisation that breaks the barriers of the traditional kind of banking, which was perhaps perceived as a bit stiff and a bit old-school. We project the other side of banking, which is modern, fresh, dynamic and innovative."
Staying ahead of the curve, though, is becoming more of a challenge as ING’s competitors begin to innovate both digitally and in terms of customer experience. "The challenge for us going forward is to keep this differentiation," Mihaela says. "Of course, that’s not easy; we now have even the non-banks competing with us – we have fintechs."
"Our colleagues and the power of the team is clearly a differentiator."
As the company faces this challenge, its strongest assets will be its people and its company culture. "Our colleagues and the power of the team is clearly a differentiator," Mihaela says.
In her 26 years at the company, Mihaela has witnessed that culture evolve out of a small team of a few dozen people, which has now grown to some 2,300 people.
One of the things that has endured in that time is a genuine interest in the client and their happiness and wellbeing, which Mihaela says in turn produces happy employees. "I’m a strong believer in the importance of having happy clients and happy employees, because only in such an environment can you actually deliver high performance," she says.
"In Romania, not every organisation is necessarily meritocratic by default. But ING has always been a meritocracy."
Another constant has been a dedication to properly recognising and rewarding employees’ abilities. "In Romania, not every organisation is necessarily meritocratic by default," Mihaela says. "But ING has always been a meritocracy. It’s been a company that has offered equal opportunities to people and has always promoted the best."
That, along with a young, dynamic team and a friendly and flexible work environment, is what has helped the company gain recognition as one of the top employers in Romania. "We have very clear values that are actually living values. They are not just slogans. We have principles that guide our activity all the time," Mihaela says.
As someone who has been with the firm for more than a quarter of a century, ING Bank Romania’s growth and development are close to Mihaela’s heart, and she says the best is yet to come.
"ING Romania is clearly a success story in this market, and there are many opportunities ahead of us."