ING Americas CIO Michel Houben on the transformation of the IT department

08 March 2023 4 min. read

When Michel Houben started as CIO of ING Americas, a year and a half ago, he found an excellent IT organization. At the same time, however, he observed that the business was not taking full advantage of the department's innovative power. This immediately gave him a clear ambition: to position the IT department more as a proactive innovation partner for the business. In conversation with, he talks about the journey he started with his department.

A broken laptop, not being able to log in or a system update – it was mainly with these kinds of problems that ING Americas employees knew how to find the IT department. Even though the IT department was so much more.

“The days when IT departments were purely supportive are definitely behind us,” Houben says. “Today, 'technology is driving the business'. With all the new developments that technology offers us, you can do fantastic things. The IT organization of ING Americas did that too, but that awareness was not yet sufficiently alive in the business.”

fLTR: Adam Lee (Synechron), Sandeep Kumar (Synechron), Michel Houben (ING), Frances Cruz (Synechron), Michael Doersam (ING), Jarno Droog (Synechron)

So, his ambition was quickly clear: “I want our team to position itself more as a proactive department that has technology and innovation in its DNA. Our purpose has become: ‘To create an environment where great ideas thrive and with which ING Americas makes a global contribution.’”

Houben thus aims to bring even more technology and new innovative market trends to the US. With the use of smart technology, he wants to mean more to employees and customers so they can go the extra mile – something that is very important nowadays, as all financial products become more and more similar. With technology, you can make a difference, staying ahead of competitors.

Breaking habits

From this vision, Houben and the team started a number of initiatives, including organizing a hackathon last fall: ‘US Breaking Habits’. The goal: to show what great things the business and IT can do in just 24 hours, if they work together.

To help with this, Houben enlisted the help of Synechron, a global digital consulting firm specialized in the financial services sector. The firm has worked extensively with ING since 2005 in, for example, innovation projects in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Singapore.

For the hackathon, ten ING teams were formed in which business and IT worked together on innovation ideas. Synechron guided the teams during the innovation journey – from creating a minimum viable product (MVP) to coaching them on how to work together. The agency also provided one of the judges.

Meaning much more

Meanwhile, Houben can look back on a more than successful hackathon: “It was a great success!” This was evident from the reaction of one of his business colleagues, who said enthusiastically afterwards, “Michel, I actually only knew the (helpdesk) medewerker from the IT department. When I have a problem with my PC, I call him. But these people can mean a lot more to me!”

That was exactly what Houben wanted to hear – his vision had landed. “And now that everyone has seen what you can achieve within 24 hours, they can also imagine what it would mean if we could do this every day. This is the beginning of a new era in which we will work agile together with DevOps to innovate.”

A big fintech

In doing so, Houben and his team can also draw inspiration from a visit they made to Synechron’s Financial Innovation Lab in New York. “What I really liked about that is that we got to see there what is possible with new technologies,” Houben said.

“Seeing different cases and trends in the market was inspiring, and we now see many new opportunities to further improve the customer experience, for example. In addition, Synechron's experience in how to get from the ideation phase to a product, and how to scale it globally, is of course invaluable.”

This helps the IT department in its ambitions to be an innovator and stay one step ahead of the competition. Houben: “Synechron offers us end-to-end solutions for the long-term, where technology and innovation are central, and ING can grow and continuously improve.”

2023 full of ambition

Houben also sees that with the business, the hackathon has already led to numerous new initiatives coming into the IT department. He explains that, within the wholesale banking vision, digitization is the key to innovation and improvement. The focus will be more on delivering added value, innovations and technology.