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ING Fast Tracks Sales Integration


But the task of linking together legacy systems, especially in insurance, isn't an easy one. ""The insurance industry got into technology fairly early and many companies haven't abandoned things that were developed in the 1960s and 1970s, so some of our peers could have as many as 30-40 different systems—and we're not unlike them,"" said Stecher.

The three-way merger between ReliaStar, Aetna Financial Services and ING's existing insurance and benefits operations posed substantial legacy integration difficulties, but the latest technologies have proven up to the task.

""Like in any other merger, the challenge is making it easier to share information and making it easier to take advantage of information,"" said Paul Donovan, executive vice president of information systems for ING U.S. Worksite Financial Services. ""Now, the tools are out there and the technology has come a long way to help.""

The merged group realigned into retail (ING Aetna Financial Services) and employer-sponsored (ING U.S. Worksite Financial Services) financial services entities. ""We've already consolidated sales offices, we're already sharing in leads, we're already sharing in calls and we're doing a number of cross-sells today,"" said Donovan. ""It truly opened up cross-sell opportunities.""

As retiring baby boomers switch from ""accumulation mode"" to ""distribution mode,"" ING will try to address their changing lives. ""Whether it's ING Direct from a banking standpoint, whether it's the retail mutual funds, whether it's annuities, or whether it's life insurance, our goal is to put all of those together as offerings for that particular segment of the market,"" said Donovan. ""Prior to the merger, either Aetna or ReliaStar or ING would not have had those capabilities to offer.""

ING will also attempt to anticipate customer needs using market segmentation, predictive modeling and profiling software. ""We're doing many things to log and to track all interactions that a client has with us so that we can much more proactively manage that account, to help the participant as well as sell other opportunities,"" said Donovan. ""Today, the information you get from a transaction is actually more important than the transaction itself.""


Although the IFS hub will eventually make it possible for any channel to sell any product, that's not in the immediate game plan for ING Direct. The mass market direct bank recently opened its second ING Cafe in the U.S. (see sidebar), following successful launches in Canada and in several European countries.

""Our overall global positioning is all about integrated financial services,"" said Arkadi Kuhlmann, president and CEO of ING Direct, Wilmington, Del. ""But we've got to do this at the customer level and not at the corporate level.""

Kuhlmann presently sees an opportunity to compete for customers on price by hammering away on a ""savings"" theme. ""If you get your first couple of thousand together, you can't seriously tell yourself that you're investing,"" said Kuhlmann. ""We're arguing for the savings step in the ladder for financial wealth.""

Accordingly, ING Direct's deposit products are limited to savings accounts and CDs, making the savings concept easier to sell. Loan products are similarly pared back: two fixed-rate mortgage loans, one adjustable-rate mortgage loan, and an unsecured loan product. At the cafe, there are more choices of beverage than banking.

The simplified retail format was easier to assemble than a traditional retail bank. ""There are no proprietary systems; they're all bought off the shelf,"" said Kuhlmann. ""It's all 'Lego-built,' so it's plug-and-chug, as we say.""

All of the ING Direct outlets worldwide use the PROFILE suite of enterprise banking applications from Sanchez Computer Associates, Malvern, Pa., under a global license agreement signed in 1997. ING Direct USA also relies on outsourcing services from Sanchez subsidiary e-PROFILE, which provides disaster recovery and remote transaction processing from its Pittsburgh data center.

Other systems include EDGE front office software from Information Management Associates, Meriden, Conn. Also, customer profitability measurement and analysis tools from CorePROFIT, West Chester, Pa., help ING Direct to calculate the ""embedded value"" of its current customer relationships and other performance benchmarks.

So once the IFS hub permits, the high-earning latte-drinkers in the ING Cafe are likely to get referred to someone from the ING Advisors Network, the umbrella organization bringing together several prior acquisitions in the financial planning arena.

""ING Direct is still less than a year old in the U.S.,"" said Stecher of ING Americas. ""As that organization grows, and as we're doing right now with better linkages with our broker-dealer community, we'll have to work out those mechanisms that allow an effective 'warm handoff' to one of our experienced financial advisors.""

""It'll be something unique to the U.S. for ING,"" he said.


Rules of Attraction

The glass front of the New York City-based ING Cafe reveals a dummy riding a mountain bike suspended from the second floor ceiling just above a pit of oranges, leaving passers-by to wonder, ""What is this place?""

That's likely the reaction its creators hoped to evoke. And you can rest assured that one of the servers will let you know exactly what the place is, over a cup of coffee.

""They can serve you a mean espresso and let you know about financial products,"" said A.J. Travagline, manager, of the cafe's servers. ""This cafe is an organic billboard.""

To bring customers in, the cafe uses live music and merchandise from mouse pads to bikes bearing the ING Direct logo. Once visitors are in, the sales staff introduces ING's mortgages, loans and savings accounts.

Because it is not a bona-fide branch, deposits cannot be made at the cafe. It does, however, offer customers pre-paid postage and a Fed-Ex mailbox for deposits onsite. Also visitors can check account status, or anything else, on one of the cafe's six Internet terminals.

- Julie Gallagher, Insurance & Technology

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