While its clients are riding the volatile markets on waves of fear and greed, the financial markets group at Dutch bank ING is trying to eradicate both of these emotions from its business.
The division has around 350 salespeople that deal financial products to clients looking to hedge their bets around the world.
And it’s now two years into a programme to improve staff “emotional intelligence,” and start ridding fear and self-interest from the institutional mindset.
The plan cuts right across the group, from the top managers to the quantitative risk modellers to the sales people.
There’s a good reason — the bank has to differentiate itself from the bigger players, both to clients and to employees, in order to stand any chance of competing.
ING, which bought Barings for £1 after rogue trader Nick Leeson blew it apart with more than £800 million in losses in 1995, isn’t big enough to compete on price or resources for new business with the bulge-bracket banks such as JP Morgan or Credit Suisse.
So they’re trying to compete on trust — And it’s working.
“This year, for financial markets, we’ll be starting with providing full transparency to clients on our margins, per product,” Mark Pieter de Boer, global head of financial markets sales, said in an interview in London.
“We want to alleviate the fear that if we start sharing this with the clients, they will say the margins are too high or too low, because we want to earn their trust. To overcome that fear is really an achievement, de Boer said.”
It all begins with training for staff to recognise their own beliefs behavioural patterns and how the combination of the two motivate what they do at work.
Here’s the graphic the bank uses to identify that:
Too much focus on individual results or personal bonuses leads to fear, and the idea that any slip up could cost you in terms of money and reputation. This leads in turn to a lack of connection with peers and clients, and, ultimately, a whole load of stress.
The no-fear approach has filtered into the bank’s own policies on dealing with clients, with the decision being made to let them in on how much the bank makes on the financial products they sell them.
“Self-orientation is often driven by fear, fear of loss or rejection,” de Boer said. “Lack of transparency of profits in financial markets is a big problem. Clients always have a feeling that profitability is a black box and don’t know what they’re paying for.”
So far it’s worked on both internal and external fronts. The bank hired McKinsey to carry out a cultural survey on 23 different metrics, and found that staff engagement was higher than the industry standard despite profit-driven bonuses being lower.
de Boer also said that client revenue had grown faster than the industry trend, with 80% of the growth coming from existing clients.
And the market volatility, with China’s markets swinging up and down and the oil price veering from plunges to rallies on a day-to-day basis, has helped.
“We’re seeing a few mega-trends. There’s a new era of volatility in the market, with bubbles bursting and increased geopolitical risk. We’ve found that clients are looking for people to lead them through this,” de Boer said.