Serge Offers is currently the CFO of ING Bank Romania, having almost 15 years of experience in banking. Next to the regular Finance activities, his current responsibilities include the local Treasury and Procurement departments.
Prior to this appointment, he had several leadership roles within the head-office of ING Group. These included heading both the External and Regulatory Reporting departments overseeing the global end-to-end processes related to the Dutch and US Annual Reports, and the European and Dutch Central Bank prudential returns. Besides maintaining the day-to-day relationships with regulators, he participated on behalf of ING in National, European and Global banking associations.
He currently is the president of the Netherlands Romanian Chamber of Commerce, where, through his personal experience and international network, he supports and promotes the interest of the Dutch - Romanian business community. Next to this, he is actively supporting an initiative to establish a local Diversity Chamber of Commerce.
Since his relocation to Romania last year, together with his wife, Kim, and their three Maine Coon cats, he has taken the time to explore the local culture and traditions. Outside work, he enjoys reading, travelling, and several sports.
The concept of sustainability has been incorporated into ING’s global strategy to support society and the environment. What does sustainable financing mean and how is this objective reflected in Romania?
In my opinion, ING is a sustainability leader in the financial sector, especially when it comes to climate action and the contribution to a low-carbon society. That view is confirmed by the external recognition we get for our environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) profile from independent research and ratings providers such as Sustainalytics, S&P Global and MSCI, which upgraded us to ‘AA’.
More than two years ago, ING announced its climate ambition to align ING’s lending portfolio with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement - our Terra approach. We are working together with our clients, by offering specific products and in-depth knowledge, to facilitate their transition to low-carbon technologies. Our second Terra report was published in October 2020 highlighting the progress made in the nine sectors most responsible for climate change in our portfolio.
In Romania, we are also a frontrunner in providing sustainable financing solutions. We had a premiere in 2019 with the first syndicated loan for a large integrated recycling park. Last year, amid the pandemic, we managed to facilitate the inaugural green bond to refinance a portfolio of green buildings and energy efficiency expenditures.
You are part of the management team of the Romanian-Dutch Chamber of Commerce and, recently, of the first Chamber of Commerce for Diversity in the world, established in Romania at the end of last year. What are the main projects currently being carried out by the two organizations and what role do they play in the local economic landscape?
The Netherlands-Romanian (NRCC) and the Romanian Diversity Chamber of Commerce (RDCC) are member organizations whose purpose is supporting to create a strong and inclusive business climate. Besides organizing networking and knowledge sharing events, both organizations have task forces consisting of its members that prepare proposals to contribute to a stable and predictable legislative framework.
The NRCC is currently focusing on two main areas. We have recently published an extensive White Paper highlighting our recommendations in areas like taxation, infrastructure, agriculture, labor market & education, EU funds and consumer / competition law. The next step is continuing the constructive and open dialogue with the public sector, which improved significantly in the last year, and coming up with concrete proposals to maximize the economic recovery and absorption of the available EU funds. Secondly, we are further building our partnerships with NLinBusiness and the Dutch Romanian Network. The objective is to increase bilateral trade possibilities and contribute to the positive image of Romania in the Netherlands and vice versa.
The mission of the RDCC is promoting gender equality and equal opportunities for Roma, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities. Currently, our focus has been on organizing corporate round tables to create awareness of the current challenges, building alliances with other NGOs and attracting new members. The participation during our last event in March on Women in Leadership showed the interest in the topic with over 100 participants and senior speakers of both the private and public sector. A next important milestone is becoming a member of Coaliţia pentru Dezvoltarea României.
How would you characterize the evolution of ING Romania’s financial results in 2020 and what measures have you taken to overcome the challenges generated by the COVID-19 pandemic?
ING Bank Romania maintained its position as the fourth largest bank in terms of assets in the market thanks to a strong net inflow of customer deposits while lending growth was muted. Despite the increased balance sheet, our financial results were negatively impacted by the unprecedented circumstances last year. Our profit declined in 2020, which was fully explained by higher net additions to the loan loss provision triggered by the deterioration of the macro-economic outlook. Excluding this item, which should largely reverse when the economy recovers, our results increased year-on-year thanks to higher income.
However, what matters most in my opinion is how we responded to the pandemic. Besides keeping our employees safe, we have managed to support our customers and played an active role in society. Payment holidays were implemented for over 32,000 vulnerable customers, while as part of the IMM Invest program 7,500 applications were received that resulted in approving loans totaling RON 1.3 billion. The health system was supported by donating protection equipment and tests, while together with Code4Romania six digital solutions were developed for sharing public information. We also continued to support starting entrepreneurs and promote financial health through our CSR programs such as Startarium and Banometru.
What are the bank’s main directions for growth this year? What role do financial education initiatives play in the current economic climate?
The pandemic confirmed the validity of our existing strategy and this year we will continue to further digitalize our products and services. We will benefit from the improved customer experience, thanks to for instance the more intuitive experience in Home’Bank, as well as the launch of new products last year that are relevant in the crisis context. The latter includes our new 7FIX mortgage offer, which provides certainty in uncertain times, or new features such as Round Up, card-less ATM withdrawals, or the possibility to add credit cards in ING Pay.
The importance of financial planning and having buffers was reconfirmed during the economic downturn. ING continues the programs that contribute to financial health, Banometru, and Startarium. So far, these involved 33,000 entrepreneurs at the start of their business and 420 individuals guided by financial coaches. Also, the programs were adapted to the crisis context. Therefore, 150 businesses were included in the relaunch and growth program Startarium RE:BUILD, consisting of consulting, mentoring and subsidizing service packages. The intensive program offered by Banometru consists of debt management and financial difficulties, a program for which more than 5,000 people signed up.
A survey conducted by ING in the autumn shows that four out of ten Romanians would prefer to leave their cards at home and pay with their mobile phone or watch. What is the impact of the accelerated digital behavior on the banking sector?
The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital solutions. Last year, over one million clients actively used Home’Bank, with a total of 219 million logins, and 68% used it from their mobile devices. Considering the rise in mobile banking, ING was also one of the first banks to offer their clients the possibility of enrolling their ING cards in Google Pay, complementing the Apple Pay and ING Pay wallets already functioning. During the lockdown period, it was also the first time the volume of card payments exceeded that of cash withdrawals from ATMs. The ING Business platform for companies has also seen an increase of approximately 65% in logins, out of which 35% were done exclusively through mobile devices while the number of transactions increased by 84% compared to 2019.
ING Bank has always had a strategy to provide clients with innovative and easily accessible products, and our bold steps towards digitalization in recent years positioned us well for these changes in customer behavior. Recognizing that customer experience is the differentiating factor, ING launched its new brand direction – ”do your thing” - in Romania. This highlights our promise to provide a personal, simple and smart banking experience for clients. ING’s achievements were recognized by KPMG who ranked ING Romania as no. 1 in Customer Experience for 2020, across all economic sectors in Romania.
Interview by Ioan Dornescu