In the past year, ABN AMRO has established a refined strategy and new company purpose: banking for better, for generations to come, an objective that more than 18,830 employees work on every day. The bank serves as many as 5.4 million customers worldwide and is one of the top three largest banks in the Netherlands.

What does this purpose mean for the ABN AMRO brand and what influence does digitisation and the rise of fintech companies have on the brand? How does ABN AMRO deal with partnerships and what is the future of the associated Tikkie brand? We asked Ernst Boekhorst, Head of Brand, Sponsoring & Foundation for ABN AMRO.

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ABN AMRO has recently employed a new company purpose. What does this mean for the brand?

Ernst Boekhorst: We have had a new Board for a number of years and from its inception we have also taken a new path in terms of strategy. We want to contribute something positive to society. That is why the theme “banking for better, for generations to come” has been created. A statement that shows we believe as a bank you can make profit, but that you also have a responsibility to give something back to society. The brand values that go with it – expert, entrepreneurial, future-oriented and socially involved – fit well with what we stand for, with both management and our employees, and are enthusiastic about on a daily basis.

One challenge is to make the outside world aware of this message and to see the ABN AMRO brand in a completely different way from three or four years’ ago. We do this with various initiatives around themes of circularity, sustainable energy and social impact. A good example of this is CIRCL, a building next to ABN AMRO’s head office that is completely circular. The building was once created as a bicycle shed, but has now been expanded with a restaurant, neighbourhood facilities, meeting rooms and an exhibition space. In addition, we encourage our clients to invest sustainably and we set up various projects to contribute to society. For example, we collect tennis balls at major tournaments so that they can be recycled.

Source: Architekten Cie.


Chairman of the Board, Kees van Dijkhuizen, claims that the purpose of ABN AMRO is supported by no less than 93% of the employees. Why do you think this is?

EB: We see that we have had a purpose, supported by the Board, for a long time. As a bank, we have a huge impact on the economy and society; by making the right choices, we want to make a positive and sustainable contribution. Our purpose is the starting point for everything we do. Now, soon, and the day after tomorrow. That is reflected in the rest of the organisation. You see that the mindset is changing. Every employee has an important role in contributing to and promoting our purpose. The fact that we all go in one direction, I think, the power of our purpose and that is why it stands strong.

How important is having a strong “purpose” in the financial sector?

EB: Firstly, it is crucial internally. In the past you saw within ABN AMRO that, due to the lack of a clear purpose, many departments implement their own strategy. Our purpose now gives us direction in everything we do. Externally, having a clear social purpose is becoming increasingly important. Consumers are becoming increasingly critical and consciously opt for brands with which they can identify themselves. Trust, transparency and social relevance are important themes in the financial sector.

"Trust, transparency and social relevance are important themes in the financial sector."

ABN AMRO is a well-known brand, but it has also been unclear for a long time what we stand for as a brand. I think we are much better at that now. It is, of course, a long process and we must continue to achieve our objectives in practice, but we are on the right track. For example, entering into new partnerships. Together with VIM Group we have started a process to see how we can best position our partnerships. Consider for example Geldmaat, a more sustainable and efficient bank-independent network of ATMs.

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We are familiar with Tikkie, an ABN AMRO brand, but in terms of branding it very different. Has this been a conscious decision?

EB: Innovation, speed and growth were paramount at the time that Tikkie was born, so it was a conscious decision to view Tikkie as a kind of “start-up brand”. In the meantime, Tikkie has grown enormously in brand awareness and it is interesting from a brand point of view to bring this back to the ABN AMRO family. 40% of people know that Tikkie is from ABN AMRO. We are trying to increase this percentage through a commercial that is currently running. We also want to bring Tikkie to the business market. This autumn, we will decide how we will deal with Tikkie’s branding in the future. That also applies to a number of other initiatives such as New10 and Franx that were created in the same way.

Can you explain what the ABN AMRO brand landscape looks like?

EB: Under the supervision of VIM Group, we are working on a new proposal to simplify our brand architecture based on a “one-brand strategy”, meaning that all our products and services come under the ABN AMRO brand. When new initiatives are started, we deal with them very differently than before. This does not mean that exceptions cannot be made for the right reasons, but as a brand department we are involved sooner so that we can make the right decisions.You can of course invest a great deal in your brand, but this must contribute to the objectives that you have as a bank. If you want to get KPIs moving, you need to communicate more consistently with your brand. We are currently working hard on this. We closely monitor progress by reporting on brand results on a monthly basis.

What are your biggest brand challenges?

EB: My biggest challenge is the culture of the bank: ABN AMRO is an entrepreneurial organisation and our employees have a lot of knowledge and are used to being decisive. New initiatives are started quickly and made successful. This benefits innovation and short-term results, but can at the same time cause fragmentation. Sometimes our people forget to think and act from a larger, shared goal. And that also means that not everything we do fits in with our strategy and purpose. Ultimately, we want everything we do to contribute to our long-term goals in the right way.

How do you ensure that the brand is structurally on the agenda within the organisation?

EB: We are paying more and more attention to that at a strategic, tactical and operational level. At the strategic level, I am mainly talking about the attention the brand receives in the boardroom. Every quarter, the Board receives insight into how our brand is doing.

"Ultimately, your employees are the most important target group in promoting your brand."

Tactically, the development of our network of internal influencers is an important spearhead. In addition, we organise meetings to ensure that our people are familiar with our heritage, brand values and objectives. Ultimately, your employees are the most important target group in promoting your brand; they must tell your story in the daily work they do. Operationally, we use an online brand community where our brand guidelines are communicated, where you can ask questions and where you can find sufficient inspiration for applying the brand.

The financial sector has been subject to major changes in recent years, including digitisation and the rise of fintech companies. What impact does that have on the ABN AMRO brand?

EB: It is a must for us to respond to this, by constantly innovating, but also by looking for relevant new partnerships, for example, with starting fintech companies. When entering into these partnerships, it is essential that we have a good overview of how we can strengthen the ABN AMRO brand. In the past you sometimes saw that the brand was the final piece in entering into a new collaboration – now we are starting with a brand assessment. We want to be keen that the brand remains visible in new partnerships, even when collaboration means that part of the customer journey takes place through another party.

61% of people expect banks to be IT companies in 2030. What does this mean for the brand?

EB: The world is becoming more and more digital, we all see that. This also changes our role as a bank. Personal contact is giving way to digital communication and our offices are disappearing. The brand experience of our customers is therefore increasingly taking place via a screen. That is precisely why our purpose is so important. It provides guidance throughout our communications: The customer no longer sees us on the high street, but receives information about us through various channels. We must ensure that the message we convey is clear and unambiguous.

“Complying with and communicating your purpose must be your main objective. Then I think you're always future-proof.”

In addition, it also means that previously tightly organised ‘house styles’ have to progress. Today’s UX staff cannot cope with strict corporate identity rules. Your brand guidelines must be able to be applied flexibly across all kinds of (digital) channels. From consistency to coherence: more freedom, but at the same time ensuring that you convey a clear message. Complying with and communicating your purpose must be your main objective. Then I think you’re always future-proof.

Ernst Boekhorst is the Head of Brand, Sponsoring & Foundation for ABN AMRO.

Read more interviews in the Future-Proof Brand Series.