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Crisis a Marketing Opportunity for ING Direct

The bank that went from zero to $80 billion in a decade reiterates the virtues of saving.

The marketing genius of ING Direct is on display again, in the form of a new Web site, wethesavers.com, which in less than three weeks had collected more than 15,000 signatures on a "Declaration of Financial Independence." The site, which launched on Black Friday, the frenzied shopping day following Thanksgiving, describes the declaration as a "plan that can help you take control of your financial life."

First among the manifesto's 10 points is consumers' stated intent to "spend less than we earn." And in a warning to "our representatives in government and the corporations we deal with," the declaration ends: "We will be heard."

ING Direct came into being in 1998 as North America's self-proclaimed "first discount bank." It tapped discontent with rising bank fees to attract consumers. Today it has 23.3 million customers in nine countries, with 7.3 million of them, representing $81 billion in assets, in the United States.

According to CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann, the bank treats all customers equally, eschewing preferential treatment for wealthy patrons (see related article). It often is not the most competitive on rates. The tough-love bank even shows the door to what Kuhlmann calls "clingy" customers.

Yet ING Direct increasingly is seen as the people's bank, judging from wethesavers.com alone. Leveraging interactive tools, such as a Signatures Map that displays signature totals by state, the site added 3,000 consumer names in the week before BS&T went to press.

Interestingly, the ING Direct brand enjoys a better perception among consumers than its parent company, Amsterdam-based ING Group (US$1.9 trillion in assets). According to a presentation at BAI's Retail Delivery show on authenticity (see related article), in research in which Dutch consumers rated financial institutions' authenticity, ING Group ranked substantially lower than ING Direct.

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