· 3 min read · News

Case study: Training for EQ at ING Group


Trust in banks is low, but greater levels of EQ among employees could help win it back

Locations: 40-plus countries

Employees: 52,000-plus

Number in HR team: 1,200

Case study: Introducing EQ at a financial services company

The company

The ING Group is a Dutch multinational banking and financial services corporation headquartered in Amsterdam. Its primary businesses are retail banking, direct banking, commercial banking, investment banking, asset management, and insurance services.

The challenge

It’s certainly no secret that public trust in the banking sector has declined massively in recent years. And how to recover this is an ongoing topic of debate for its institutions.

Other factors also add to this challenge, explains Mark Pieter de Boer, global head of financial markets sales at ING. “The financial market has taken on a new range of volatility due to various factors such as bubble making and breaking, the financial crisis, the debt crisis, a low interest rate environment, QE and deflation.

“As a result of these trends clients are looking more and more for banks to guide them through the volatility, helping them in terms of stabilising their business in a destabilising environment,” he explains. “It’s a lot more about solutions rather than pushing products. It’s a lot more about providing commitment through a longer-term process rather than going for a one-off transaction and creating a win-lose situation.”

The method

The bedrock of creating such a new way of doing things needed to be stronger emotional intelligence (or EQ) on the part of ING’s employees, it was decided. “The financial service business has been driven very much by IQ in the past,” says de Boer. “We have a lot of intelligent guys but in our view this wasn’t enough to continue to lead in this changing environment.”

So the company launched a new sales training programme in 2014, overseen by de Boer and rolled out across 30 countries. The first stage was getting sales staff to engage more fully with their own thoughts and feelings and how to manage these, so encouraging people to be more self-aware. “We then transitioned from emotional mindsets to unlocking emotional intelligence in front of others, which is very much about social awareness and empathy with colleagues, and particularly clients,” says Steve Ellis, European director at RogenSi, the consultancy firm ING worked with on this.

This was all centred on an equation, Ellis explains, of credibility plus reliability plus intimacy, divided by self-orientation, equaling trust.

Instilling a culture of prizing and embodying EQ is about much more than training, says de Boer. “You need to make the circle round; you need the whole cycle,” he says. “You start with structure, implement the strategy, move to your KPI framework and link back to remuneration.”

Leaders role modelling these values is an incredibly important part of this, adds Ellis, explaining that this is why it was vital that de Boer lead the initiative rather than it being steered entirely by HR. “It begins with influential leaders articulating the value proposition of emotional intelligence,” says Ellis. “The transformation was more than a training course. The training played a significant part but behaviour change doesn’t simply happen by attending a course. It starts with a philosophy. That’s articulated in ING’s orange code.”

He adds: “On top of the training there are some institutional things, so making sure it goes into people’s KPIs so we’re not just measuring the output but also the input. We measure how people do things rather than just the output because this is very behavioural.”

The result

Testament to the programme’s success so far is the fact that, in a shrinking industry, ING’s client income growth has accelerated compared with previous years, reports de Boer. “This gives the client a totally different experience because they won’t have had any similar discussions with any of our competitors,” he says.

He adds that ING now rates above the industry norm in the McKinsey index, as evidenced by the 2015 survey’s results. He explains that a significant added bonus is improved engagement, with better self-awareness and ability to manage emotions, which improves employees’ mental resilience too.

Regarding the future, de Boer says: “The next level might be that we get to a point where we do it together with clients. Then we get to a really powerful situation. That would be the ultimate proof of having moved to a real partnership – of such a high level that there is 100% win-win, and mutual trust.”

Ellis adds: “For a large part of the time we’re second guessing what the other person’s thinking. We’re second guessing whether we’re being ripped off or not. If we’ve been on training together [with the customer] I’m no longer second guessing what they’re doing because we’ve both received the same message.”