The Business Year

@JavierArias

SPAIN - Finance

Ignacio Juliá

CEO, ING Bank

Bio

Ignacio Juliá has been the CEO of ING Spain and Portugal since January 2021. He leads the entity in Spain through its divisions of Retail Banking and Corporate & Investment Banking. He joined ING Spain in 1999, the year of its launch. Among other roles, he served as Chief Financial and Risk Officer and was responsible for the retail business. In this role, he drove the transformation of ING from a product-oriented direct bank to a customer-centric entity through digital channels. Following his tenure in Spain, Ignacio continued his career in Poland in 2012, where he led the retail banking business of ING Bank Śląski. In 2016, Ignacio was appointed Global Head of Retail Banking at ING, a position he combined with that of Global Head of Innovation.

"During the pandemic, we faced declining income, stricter regulations, and increased client demands."
TBY talks to Ignacio Juliá, CEO of ING Bank, about major milestones, growth plans, and digitalization.
How have ING Bank’s goals evolved in the last few years, and what have been its major milestones?

During the pandemic, we faced declining income, stricter regulations, and increased client demands. Accelerated digitalization created urgency, allowing new market entrants and prompting industry reinvention. To stay relevant, we needed to maintain both personal and digital client relationships and operate efficiently. Seeing an opportunity, we developed a plan for the future and defined three main growth axes. The first is reinforcing differentiation, and we implemented internal changes and transformed our digital client experience, making us the most recommended bank in Spain for the 17th year. Our mobile app became the market leader, a significant leap from 2020. Second, we focused on employee satisfaction in our belief that happy employees provide better service. By improving organizational health, our score rose to 65%, aiming for 75%. This leads to better client experiences and a competitive advantage in talent retention. Finally, we evolved our business model to enhance personal experiences through new client interaction systems increased traffic, information, and sales. Our digital transformation efforts focus on client-facing and backend processes, ensuring automation and cost savings. These efforts led to 4.2 million clients, with 3.2 million holding payroll accounts. Our market share in payroll accounts grew from 6% to 8%. In 2023, ING Bank gained 330,000 new clients, a record increase. Despite a 2% market contraction in Spain in 2023 due to inflation, we grew by 10%. While lending decreased by 3%, we grew by 4%, while investment products saw a 19% increase. This growth is our first milestone. The second milestone is our differentiation. Being the most recommended bank is crucial as it fuels growth.

Are you focusing on continued growth or consolidation this year?

We aim to keep growing despite the complex environment of 2024. Inflation has peaked and is normalizing, the geopolitical landscape remains complicated, and the competitive landscape has shifted significantly. Since the financial crisis, banking has transformed with increased digitalization, improved customer experience, and greater efficiency. Recent positive interest rates have strengthened banks financially, and digitalization has accelerated across the industry. Initially, in 2024 was about evaluating our position, but we have continued to grow. We focus on improving efficiency, spending 30 points less than traditional banks, which allows us to move faster and do more for our clients. This efficiency helps us achieve a profit of 16% (ROE), at or above the sector’s level, with progress exceeding our expectations.

What measures are you taking to foster sustainability even more, and what achievements are you planning in the coming years?

The core of ING’s strategy includes two pillars: customer experience and sustainability. I am proud to work in an organization where both pillars are essential, allowing us to stand out. Over the past three years, we have focused on translating this global strategy into our operations in Spain, contributing to two significant societal challenges: global warming and inequality. One initiative we implemented is the concept of ESG Greeners. These are employees passionate about sustainability from various departments who volunteer to co-create and adapt our sustainability practices. This approach has allowed us to move faster. In 2023, we redesigned our strategy to empower our clients on their sustainability journey. First, ING Bank leads by example. We must comply with extensive regulations, understand our emissions, and have a plan to reduce them. We have moved to a sustainable energy building and are integrating sustainability into our organization’s DNA. We also assist many clients in their sustainability transitions by leveraging our local and global expertise. We produce reports to understand past activities and engage in strategic conversations with clients to guide them through their sustainability journey, increasing the sustainable percentage of our portfolio. In retail, we concentrate on three areas, starting with lending. For example, we focus on mortgages and housing, ensuring they evolve toward energy efficiency. Spain is fairly behind in this area, so we are working on educating clients and promoting energy-efficient mortgages. By continuing these efforts, we plan to make significant strides in sustainability over the coming years, helping both our organization and our clients transition to more sustainable practices.

Do you have a program to include senior citizens?

Inclusion is extremely important to us. Our strategy ensures a consistent customer experience across all channels. We pride ourselves on being one of the most accessible banks, enabling clients to manage everything through any channel. We focus on simplifying complex processes, excelling in making difficult tasks easy. With 40% of our clients over 50, inclusion means ensuring accessibility for everyone, and we continually work to improve this. A few years ago, we launched a service to facilitate payments and withdrawals in shops. We later sold this tool to see if it could become a market standard, similar to Bizum. Three years ago, we joined Bizum to adopt a market standard and extend our reach. We take inclusion seriously, always aiming to make the difficult easy.

How is ING using AI to move toward digitalization, service, and customer experience?

Technology accelerates our business, enhancing client experience and streamlining processes. AI has long been integral to banking, improving customer interactions. In 2023, we managed 700 million client interactions, personalizing 42% of them. AI tools make these interactions more relevant and efficient, though human judgment always guides decisions. For example, chatbots and AI-driven tools bring the full banking experience to smartphones, making complex tasks more manageable. AI helps clients find what they need and enhances their experience. In risk assessment, AI models analyze client profiles to suggest suitable products. AI is invaluable for managing data and improving both customer experience and internal processes. We see potential in generative AI but proceed cautiously, ensuring we fully understand the technology before deploying it in client interactions. Internally, we train our staff to understand the changes AI will bring. In fraud prevention and cybersecurity, AI plays a dual role: protecting our clients and countering threats from malicious actors using the same technology. We continuously educate clients about potential fraud risks, reinforcing their knowledge through campaigns like our fraud and phishing awareness initiative two years ago.

What are the goals for ING for the future, specifically for 2024 and 2025?

Our goal is to consolidate our position as a relevant and different bank in Spain. The core goals remain the same: to keep growing and expanding, to solidify our position as the most recommended bank by our clients, to ensure our employees are the happiest, and to be a profitable bank that serves society and contributes to Spain’s economic growth.

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