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Nancy Napier: Banking creativity on the way for Idaho?

When I worked in Vietnam in the 1990s, we went to the bank monthly to get cash to pay for rent and salaries of the people working on our capacity building project. A colleague and I went to an international bank — ANZ — to take out $30,000 worth of local currency. In those days, the denominations went no higher than the equivalent of a $5 bill, so we carried the cash out of the bank in four white plastic bags, with “ANZ” in big black letters on the side. If one of our Boise State University accountants happened to be in town, we asked her to carry two of the bags as we strolled through downtown Hanoi. Then we’d sit, $30,000 at our feet, and eat lunch with our Idaho colleague breathing hard at the knowledge.

How things change.

I was in Hanoi recently and, as in the rest of the world, ATMs, international transfers and mobile banking are common. But I just read about another bank — ING — and its use of technology, and I’m fascinated to see when we will catch up in the U.S.

In the Aug. 3 issue of The Financial Times, a profile of the CEO of Amsterdam-based ING bank mentioned several whiz-bang sounding technologies.

Ralph Hamers visited Silicon Valley to learn what his bank might incorporate and found the techies interested in learning from him. As he says, banking products are all alike. A mortgage or bank account is the same no matter where you go. What will differentiate is how the customers receive and experience service.

Here are four ways he’s beefed up the bank’s service using technology — some, of course, make visiting the bank obsolete altogether:

•  In Spain, ING is piloting an “algorithmic credit scoring system” that sounds like the one used by organizations like, where peers lend to small firms without any direct interaction.

•  In Germany, the bank won authority to open bank accounts using video and face-recognition technology, eliminating the need for face-to-face contact. Now, that fingerprint identification is available on smart phones, and ING has moved to use it in some mobile banking applications.

•  The last two involve how people work. In the headquarters office, ING has redesigned its ground floor to be more imaginative. It’s now a laboratory with beanbags, white boards and swing chairs. And instead of silos, the bank throws employees from different areas together on a problem or activity, using principles of the software approach called “scrum.”

Granted, some employees have lost the traditional jobs, but would these approaches open up some new avenues and ways to work? Would they make banking a field that more young people would want to pursue?

Who’s going to be first in our market to try some of these new approaches? If it doesn’t happen here soon, I’ll look for it in Vietnam.