Dutch financial services giant ING Group has a long legacy of innovation in the banking world. It introduced the first ATM in the Netherlands in 1966, six years ahead of any competitors. ING Direct was created in 1997 and disrupted the industry with its digital focus and high interest rates for savings accounts. In 2017, ING launched ING Ventures, a $350 million fund aimed at investing in fintech companies to further the company’s innovation strategy.
At the heart of each of these ING initiatives is the customer. “The mission of ING is for our customers to stay a step ahead in life and business,” says Ignacio Juliá Vilar, the head of ING’s global retail business.
The customer-centric approach is visibly evident in Forbes’ first-ever ranking of the World’s Best Banks, based largely on customer satisfaction. ING rates highly in eight of the 23 countries where customers were surveyed (ING has retail operations in 13 countries). Citibank, which ranked highly in six nations, is the only other bank to appear as a best bank in more than five countries.
Forbes partnered with market research firm Statista to measure the best banks in nearly two dozen countries. Statista surveyed more than 40,000 customers around the globe for their opinions on their current and former banking relationships.
The banks were rated on overall recommendation and satisfaction, as well as five subdimensions (trust, terms and conditions, customer services, digital services and financial advice). Between 5 and 60 banks were identified as top banks in each country, based on the total evaluations collected, the number of banks in the specific country and the scores achieved.
Global banks have experienced a sea change over the past decade. Consolidation, rock-bottom interest rates and the shift toward digital banking have roiled the industry. It has been a challenge for banks to adapt to this rapidly changing environment, and doing so across borders is an even greater test
Banks have been forced to change as the customer has changed. “The customer is becoming much more demanding with what we do and how we do it,” says Vilar. “We also see the differences across the different markets becoming thinner as customer behaviors and expectations become closer in the different countries.”
This changing customer behavior has enabled ING to use its global footprint to successfully push initiatives that work in one country throughout its network. ING introduced a program in Poland to simplify all communications with customers and make them more personal. Customer satisfaction soared in the country. The approach called Say It Simple was copied in Germany and the results were similar. ING finished first overall in both countries among Forbes’ best banks.
The eight countries in which ING ranked among the top performers include Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. It rated highest on digital services and trust, in terms of the attributes Statista measured. ING added 1.1 million retail customers last year and has 38.4 million overall. The chief tool in recruiting: recommendations from current clients.
Citibank rated highly in six countries, with Mexico (fourth overall) and Russia (sixth) its best showing. Citibank’s top scores were for financial advice and customer service.
Citi is the most global of the big U.S. banks, but it has undergone a multi-year transformation to streamline its worldwide footprint. The consumer bank has downsized from retail operations in more than 40 countries in 2012 to 19 today. The goal is an increased focus on the U.S., Mexico and Asia-Pacific, with redesigned branches, product enhancements and investments in wealth management. Like ING, Citigroup has put mobile at the core of its customer experience.
Citibank has become more nimble during its global transformation, with capabilities that previously would have taken years to launch now happening in months. A global beta testing community enables customers to co-create products and digital capabilities.
The bank released a completely redesigned mobile experience in Mexico last year that has received rave reviews from customers. New digital enhancements included the ability to temporarily block a credit card if misplaced and easily unlock it; personalized product offerings; 24/7 transfers to other banks; and dozens of other new features.
Berlin, Germany-based mobile bank N26 ranked among the top banks in five European countries, including first in Italy and second in Austria and Spain. N26, which was founded in 2013, does not have any physical branches but offers free ATM withdrawals worldwide and is travel-friendly with fee-free currency conversions. It raised a $160 million Series C round last year, led by Tencent and the investment arm of insurance giant Allianz. N26 expects to launch in the U.S. over the next four months.
USAA was the highest-rated bank in the U.S. The bank is open to members of the U.S. military and their families and has more than 12 million members. It scored highly on trust, financial advice and terms and conditions.