ING Direct (USA) was launched in September 2000. From the start it liked to do things differently.
“One way or another, most financial companies are telling you to spend more. We’re showing you how to save more,” said original CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann.
ING is an Internet-based savings bank, dealing directly with its customers. It has only a limited number of easy-to-understand products. It prides itself on speed, simplicity and low overheads. It claims to be the bank for the people on “Main Street, not Wall Street”.
But it says no to what a lot of other banks like to say yes to.
There are NO minimum deposits and NO customers’ fees.
It has NO ATMs, NO branches, NO advisors (it’s an Internet, virtually paperless organization).
It doesn’t market checking accounts or auto loans. Not only does it not market credit cards, ING openly campaigns against them
“If you’re truly committed to helping people change their financial lives and to doing it step by step, then you should not encourage them to do things that could lead them to lose money,” says Chief Customer Service Officer Jim Kelly.
In one famous instance, ING turned down a wealthy potential customer who wanted to deposit $5 million with the bank. It was nothing personal, it said, but: “Rich Americans are used to platinum cards, special service – the last thing we want in this bank is to have rich people making special demands. We treat everyone the same.”
The business also “fires” around 3,500 customers a year who don’t play by their rules – making too many calls to customer service, or asking for too many exceptions to procedures.
ING expects and accepts the consequences: “The customers who are right for you, they have you. They become evangelists. The customers who close out, they hate you.
But you know what they do when they hate you? They tell everyone about you – and that’s good. It creates dialogue. There’s nothing like differentiation,” says Kuhlmann.
The result of their approach? By 2004, the business was making a pre-tax profit of $250 million per annum.
And the moral is that it can pay to say NO..