Read more inspirational cases in our magazine FINANCIALS IN TRANSITION

Digital transformation is crucial at Rabobank: the Rabo app needs to become the gateway to a range of financial products and services. Bart Leurs, its chief digital transformation officer, is clear: ‘You no longer need bricks and mortar for banking.’

Before the corona crisis exploded, Rabobank had just decided to process credit applications of up to €1 million entirely digitally. The bank also wanted to focus more on Fundr, a service that gives entrepreneurs an offer for a loan including the maximum amount and charges, or allows them to adjust their current loan, all online and within 15 minutes. Since the corona measures came into effect, the digital transition has accelerated. Almost all employees work from home and almost all customer processes can be done remotely.

‘The crisis has actually accelerated the expansion of our digital lending,’ says Bart Leurs, Rabobank’s chief digital transformation officer. ‘Almost all our employees, including the call centre staff, have been working from home since mid-March. We see that our digital lending process is very fast and smooth. This is crucial for entrepreneurs, who frequently make an extra request for a guarantee or bridging loan right now and want a quick answer.’

The app is the bank

Digital transformation is crucial for Rabobank, says Leurs. The employees of local Rabo branches, traditionally deeply embedded in the local community, for a long time stuck to the old business model where personal contact between customer and relationship manager came first. But now interactions with customers have changed fundamentally: 76% of all new customers find Rabo online. They no longer need to visit a local bank branch because the customer relationship starts via the Rabobank app. When customers purchase a product or service, almost 70% do so digitally. These percentages are slightly lower for business customers – but even for this group, more than 80% of daily contacts are now online. ‘You no longer need bricks and mortar for banking today,’ says Leurs. ‘Actually, our app, which provides access to a range of digital services, has become the bank. Digital is our new normal. Of all of our activities with customers, I expect that about 95% will happen online in the near future.’ He emphasises that personal contact with the customer is still crucial at certain times: ‘Whether you are a large business customer, an SME or a private individual, there are always points in your life when you really want to talk it through with a financial specialist. This might be about a mortgage, your wealth, a new business loan, taking over another company – you name it. This requires a number of things from our relationship managers, for example. They certainly need be able to provide more high-quality advice.’

Bart Leurs (1972) After studying business administration, he started his career at ING in 1997. After a traineeship, he began working as a relationship manager for the business market, before becoming head of strategy of ING Direct and ING Belgium’s head of daily banking services. In 2016, Leurs moved to Rabobank, where he worked as head of fintech and innovation. In 2017 he was appointed chief digital transformation officer and also a member of Rabobank group’s management.

The bank’s role as coach

Rabobank is constantly working on expanding its app into a digital platform, where the bank acts as a financial coach for its customers. One function, for example, is called ‘where is my money going?’ and gives customers some insights into their income and expenditure, while the app can also offer services from other companies, says Leurs. These include services from Peaks, a start-up that emerged from Rabobank’s Moonshot campaign (an internal 'acceleration programme' that gives Rabo employees the opportunity to work on innovative ideas). Peaks enables automated investing via an app and is especially aimed at novice investors. This allows you to automatically transfer your digital ‘change’ to Peaks, which then invests it for you. Leurs explains: ‘The aim of Peaks is to help young people to build up a savings pot and discover investing in an accessible way. Another digital service is GreenHome's ‘HuisScan’, which allows Rabo customers to find out about measures to make their house more sustainable, before we help them think about how they can finance their renovation. We want the Rabo app to really grow into an innovation platform.' Rabobank also offers ever more online options for business customers, such as that digital lender Fundr. Leurs explains: ‘Fundr collects transaction data from the applicant’s bank when it has permission from the applicant. We supplement this with company data from the Chamber of Commerce database. We then use machine learning to analyse the customer's creditworthiness and offer a made-to-measure loan. Before the loan is actually granted, the customer still needs to have a video call with a Rabo employee.’

Handling customer data confidentially

Any organisation that goes digital should consider the use and management of customer data in accordance with privacy laws such as GDPR. This is an especially sensitive area for banks: when ING hinted a few years ago that it planned to start a pilot where third parties could also offer services to ING customers, based on their data, there was such a stink that ING dropped it post-haste. Leurs says: ‘We’ve been a data company for 120 years so customers trust that we are careful with their data. They entrust us with their data, which means we can, for example, use data analysis to provide them with better insights into their financial needs now and in the future. We do regular customer surveys to find out what they expect from us in this regard, and what they think we can and cannot do with their data.'

‘Actually, our app has become the bank.

Digital is our new normal’

Agile working gets results

Just like its competitor ING, a textbook example of an agile bank, Rabobank also now works with squads and tribes according to the Spotify model. The bank is well on the way in transforming itself to a ‘fully agile model’, says Leurs: ‘We have more than 32,000 employees in the Netherlands. About 4,000 of them work in ten tribes, which are divided again into self-managing squads. This includes employees in IT, marketing, product management and other support services. Many employees work in our local offices and this is not yet the case for them. Meanwhile, abroad we also work according to a traditional organisational model.’

What are the results of this agile working?

Leurs says: ‘People in self-managing teams find this way of working more inspiring. Because they can decide what they want themselves, they feel much less control from management. They know how they contribute to realising our strategy so their sense of involvement is much greater too. What I really like about the squads is that you see more of a feeling of ownership there. These teams do everything they can to optimise service for the customer.’

‘We’ve been a data company for 120 years so customers trust that we are

careful with their data’

The bigtech threat

In recent years, some traditional banks have felt increasingly threatened by emerging fintechs and “bigtechs” such as Amazon, Apple and Google. Leurs sees a more nuanced picture: ‘Many fintechs are little more than a digital bank with a payment card, which we as Dutch banks have been offering for a long time. Don't forget, the Netherlands is at the forefront of digital banking internationally. I think the threat from bigtechs is much more serious. Apple Pay is serving many millions of customers. We are also looking carefully at Amazon: if it launches a platform in the Netherlands for SMEs, for example, it might want to offer credit via that platform. And what is Google going to do? I think these firms are the greatest threat.’ What about banks collaborating with bigtechs under the motto: "If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em"? Leurs says it’s certainly an option: ‘I assume that big techs do not want to develop all those financial services themselves. They are looking for specialists to do that and we have to jump into that gap. For example, we built Fundr in such a way that you can easily plug it into an Amazon platform.’ He also foresees a future in which banks are no longer the centre of the universe. ‘Customers also expect to be able to purchase banking services and products from all sorts of non-banks. Our challenge is to offer those services on other people's platforms whenever possible. Why would entrepreneurs using an Exact accounting system not want to apply for credit via that system, for instance? Fundr would fit very well within that platform. In a nutshell, we want to be where our customers are. Our digital journey is far from over, but we already have a good digital foundation in our local Dutch market. In the coming years, we can expand upon this at home and abroad.’


Sector: Financial services | Workforce: 43,000 | Innovation/technology team 6,000 | Activities Private and corporate banking for clients in 41 countries | Net profit 2019 € 2.2 billion

Read more inspirational cases in our special FINANCIALS IN TRANSITION

The CTO's of leading financials such as ING, ABN AMRO, Rabobank and AEGON give insights into their own, unique approach to digitalisation. And discover how BDO's integrated approach makes the most of the opportunities which digital transformation can bring.