In the wake of industry reform allowing a single entity to own domestic banks, brokerages and insurance companies, several megabanks are now racing to build converged and integrated financial institutions in the hopes of attaining both economies of scale and economies of scope.
ING certainly heard the starting gun. Although ING Group, with over $500 billion in global assets, has had a U.S. presence since 1979, its recent activities bring the Dutch company to a new level of stateside prominence. In the past year alone, ING Americas has presided over a three-way insurance merger, the integration of its asset management subsidiaries and the launch of a direct bank for retail consumers.
Along with the challenge of fully digesting its recent acquisitions, ING hopes to develop the capability to cross sell its products and services across business units. By doing so, the combined entity may not only exceed the sum of its parts, but also might exceed its competition as well.
But someone has to tie the pieces together first.
Steven Stecher, CIO and general manager of ING Americas, Atlanta, is responsible for the development and deployment of technologies for the North, Central and South American operations of the firm. "We're trying to make it easier for all of our customer constituencies to do business with us," he said. "We're working towards integration and making the customer experiencewhether you're a producer or an end consumerto be as user-friendly as we can."
ALL YOU NEED IS HUB
To that end, ING Americas built a middleware "hub" between its distribution channels and its product offerings using IBM MQ Series and MQ Series Integrator. Dubbed the IFS (Integrated Financial Services) hub, one of its core functions is to maintain an index of all of the relationships customers have with ING across its various businesses. Then, the hub can fetch data from legacy systems on behalf of any distribution channel, whether an agent, a Web site or a wireless device.
"Giving consolidated statements either to our producers or to our end consumers requires a lot of integration," said Stecher. "Our middleware component is the key to moving forward."
Once the IFS hub connections are fully in place, each distribution channel will be able to access services and information from any part of the firm, limited only by business logic. "Let's say we have a financial planner that's part of our broker-dealer network," said Stecher. "We'll be able to offer their customers a very competitive banking opportunity for savings and loans through ING Direct; a suite of four- and five-star Morningstar-rated mutual funds; some of the top-selling variable annuities; and a wide variety of life products."
"That will have a substantial differentiating effect for us," Stecher added.
Another benefit of having a hub is that ING now has a common content repository.
"In the past, we'd have multiple Web sites, many of which weren't connected, all of which would provide content," said Stecher. "With the common content repository, we store information provided by the manufacturers, as well as by our legal and compliance folks, so we know that when a Web site extracts that information out, it's in complianceit's been reviewed once, there's no redundancy, and there's no chance for erroneous information."
The hub will also make life easier for consumers, who will be able to use a single sign-on to access all of their ING accounts as well as those from other financial institutions through account aggregation services. "Whether it's providing a consolidated or unified flow of information to a company like Yodlee or Pershing or to a number of third parties we work with, we're absolutely going to do that," said Stecher. "The end consumer is in the driver's seat."
Finally, the global ING organization will eventually have access to XML-formatted data via the hub. "We're developing a 'bridge' to share information with organizations within ING but outside of the U.S. operations," said Stecher.