The Innovators 2020: Western Europe

Sheltering in place is accelerating a shift in customer banking habits, and institutions are rising to meet the demand for digital innovation.

With “Do your thing” as its global tagline Global Finance’s 2020 Most Innovative Bank in Western Europe, ING, broadcasts empowerment of people as the heart of its strategy. Helping to drive digital innovation are the flattening of the interest rate curve, cost pressures and competing business models, says Benoît Legrand, ING’s chief innovation officer. 

“In the history of innovation, the difficult part is not the innovation itself but the adoption and changing habits,” Legrand argues. “The new normal will be even more digital, as customers are effectively now in a situation where they are forced to use tools such as contactless payments. Any crisis is an important moment for innovation, for new ideas.”

ING’s smart money app, Yolt, already has 1.4 million registered users in the UK, France and Italy and has API integrations with over 90% of UK consumer accounts.

ING currently has 30 initiatives in its Labs, 200 partnerships with fintechs and more than 30 investments in fintechs via its VC fund, ING Ventures. Its Internet of Things platform, secure software development kit for IoT devices and the FINN App are available to all industries, Legrand says. Early tests showed how cars can be loaded like a wallet to pay for fuel, car washes, tolls and parking. Legrand says FINN enables companies to offer pay-per-use solutions, a growing trend among younger consumers who place less importance on ownership.  

While the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated these advances, digital innovation is a long-term commitment, Legrand insists. “It requires a structured approach, it requires consistency over time, and it requires patience and resilience to go through that,” he says. “Innovation can go faster than human beings.”

Businesses, too, are adapting as Covid-19 fundamentally alters the way the world operates, says Christoph Gugelmann, CEO at Tradeteq, this year’s Most Innovative Fintech in Western Europe. In the UK, “the government has already announced an unprecedented guarantee package for businesses to keep them afloat during the period of uncertainty,” Gugelmann notes. “However, while loans and additional liquidity lines can help to some extent, they are less effective in keeping corporate supply chains moving than access to trade finance.”

Tradeteq is enhancing its company credit scoring and transaction credit scoring offering in partnership with Singapore Management University (SMU), says Michael Boguslavsky, Tradeteq’s head of Artificial Intelligence. “Our AI credit scoring capabilities are already industry-leading; this project we are embarking on with SMU will further develop our technology,” he says. “We are exploring the development of quantum-based neural networks to more quickly and accurately give credit scores to small to medium-size enterprises and transactions, allowing them access to trade finance, which, under normal credit reporting, would not have been possible. Quantum computing is set to be a game changer for many sectors, and this project will hopefully lead the charge for trade finance.”

Faster and more accurate credit scoring would be especially welcome by small companies struggling to access funding, as global economies endure a shutdown that will last for months and repercussions that could continue for years.

“This is where trade finance asset distribution comes in. By selling these assets to smaller investors, not only can banks remove risk from their balance sheets, but they can generate new profits by selling their commodity trade finance exposure,” Gugelmann says.

Opening trade finance assets to non-bank investors has the potential to unlock millions of dollars in new liquidity, he suggests, helping to plug the trade finance gap and providing cash to the companies who need it most. “Using cloud-based technology makes the distribution process more efficient, paperless and independent of human intervention,” says Gugelmann, “a significant bonus at a time when the world is ruled by social-distancing measures.”