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ING: Hamers draws up his European masterplan

Digital-obsessed chief executive Ralph Hamers has pushed ING towards what is perhaps the biggest bank transformation in Europe. Can it become a model for how to build a globally competitive retail bank, straddling the continent’s fragmented markets?


Illustration: Britt Spencer



There is no hiding the passion with which Ralph Hamers has pursued digitalization, since his promotion to ING’s chief executive five years ago.

He has hammered home the Dutch bank’s internet-era advantages, making it stand out from the pack of European banks still struggling to find a place in the post-crisis world. From being forced to sell insurer NN Group as a condition of its 2008 bailout, now it can even contemplate Europe’s most important bank acquisition for more than a decade: Commerzbank.

How is it then that ING still trades at a discount to book value of about 25%, even though its return on equity is better than any other Europe-focused bank of its size, at about 11%? Is Hamers making a fundamental strategic error, despite the technology boom?

There is, it seems, remarkably little enthusiasm among peers for Hamers’ grandiose transformation project. Launched in 2016 and now due to run until 2022 or later, this is possibly the boldest project of its kind in European banking today and it could provide a model for the sector for decades to come.

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