ING Group is focusing its development on platforms as part of its EUR 800 million pledge for the digital transformation of the lender.

The program announced in 2016 is set to bring savings of around EUR 900 million by 2021, when the bank expects to have its first platforms reuniting several markets.

Aris Bogdaneris, member management board Banking and head of Challengers & Growth Markets at ING, says the first platform for Western Europe, comprising France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Czech Republic, will be finished by 2021. Another platform will be developed for Germany, while a third one is set to target the Benelux area, including Belgium and The Netherlands.

“The idea is to build these platforms in geographic clusters,” said Bogdaneris, who said that the operations in Romania, Poland, Turkey and Australia would also be added on one of these platforms.

ING’s thinking is that these platforms will help it go beyond banking and support its massive drive into the tech sector. The financial group is already working with or investing in start-ups active in the fintech sector across the world.

“We see platforms as the future,” said Bogdaneris during a press event at ING’s HQ in Bucharest. He went on to say that he sees as competitors for ING the online behemoths Facebook, Amazon or Alibaba. “We’re hiring big data scientists like crazy,” he added.

The pivot to platforms is prepared in Romania through ING’s constant investments in technology. Michal Szczurek, CEO of ING Romania, said that the lender is investing “EUR 10 million plus” annually in digital, suggesting this process will continue because there is a lot of room to improve the day-to-day banking experience in Romania. Also, ING’s software development center is contributing to this process. The bank has around 340 software developers in Bucharest that are working on projects implemented at international level.

Asked in the next years, ING’s network of physical branches in Romania might be hit by the massive investments in digital, Szczurek said we will not see any major “shifts up or down”. At present, ING Bank Romania has a network of 150 units across Romania.

Meanwhile, Bogdaneris said that branch networks across the group will shrink but they will not disappear for good because in many markets the human interaction will remain relevant. But the branches might get new functions, although the board member didn’t elaborate on this. He said, however, the most of ING’s branches don’t store cash anymore.

ING has 36 million customers at global level.

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