Top Innovators

Arkadi Kuhlmann: Innovate or Die

A relentless drive to simplify banking has motivated ING Direct USA's Arkadi Kuhlmann to reengineer products and processes and reinvent the customer experience.

For Arkadi Kuhlmann, innovation isn't simply a matter of plugging old processes into new technology; innovation, he insists, comes from the reinvention of how technology, business and the customer interact. "It's really important in our industry that we have some experimentation," explains Kuhlmann, chairman, president and CEO of Wilmington, Del.-based ING Direct USA.

Over the past decade, Kuhlmann has guided ING Direct (which at press time announced that it would be acquired by Capital One) as it has grown into the nation's largest direct bank -- the primarily online institution now has more than 7.7 million customers and $92.2 billion in assets. In achieving such lofty milestones, Kuhlmann has focused on building a better banking experience, whether it's through the online channel, the call center, mobile devices or one of ING Direct's seven "cafes," which combine a friendly retail environment -- plus coffee and free Wi-Fi -- with bankers who are there to give a face to the bank and help customers.

As Kuhlmann, who launched ING Direct Canada in 1996 and has headed ING Direct USA since 2000, describes it, his focus with ING Direct is on reinvention. "It's all about reengineering the product or reengineering the process or reengineering the customer," he says.