The Risk Magazine Committee had the opportunity to interview Pien Smeets, Head of Retail Risk at NIBC, one of Risk's Main Partners.
Pien, could you please introduce yourself?
Sure. My name is Pien Smeets, I am a mother of two pre-teenage boys, living with my family in Amsterdam and responsible for Risk Management at NIBC Direct, the retail activities of NIBC.Looking back how I got to this, I was born and raised in the south of the Netherlands. I moved to Amsterdam to study and graduated with a Master in Economics. During my studies, I used to be a board member of the predecessor of FSA, your sister organization – if I can say it like that – in Amsterdam. Great times, and very valuable experience. Considering it was too early to start working, I did two international internships, which allowed me a closer look at a financial services and a FMCG company, while travelling the world. This taught me that I wanted to work in a company’s core business, so I started as a trainee at ABN AMRO thereafter. Following the take-over of ABN AMRO by – among others – RBS, I joined RBS. These were interesting times, not only because it marked the start of the financial crisis, so working in Restructuring at that time, these were professionally challenging years. It also allowed me to compare the impact and influence on decision making in a head office versus a local branch, and how to remain effective. After RBS, I set-up a Restructuring team in a boutique trade bank, before joining NIBC in 2017.
You have worked in various fields in the banking industry. Where did you learn the most?
Throughout my banking career, I worked in Structured Finance, M&A, Strategy, Restructuring and now Risk. In no particular order, this gave me the opportunities to develop analytical, negotiation and interpersonal skills, learn how to manage a bank, be creative, and get things done. Actually, there is a lot to learn from everything. That is perhaps the biggest take-away and tip for all your student members that are thinking about their first job: just get going and make the best of it. Even if you think you have not found your “perfect job”, if there is such thing as “the perfect job”You will always learn from it. And besides, no job is for life, you can always change if you want to!
What do you like most about your job? What gives you satisfaction?
What I love most about my work are the people I work with and the clients I work for. I find it inspiring to work with talented professionals and see them grow, to jointly help the bank by seeking solutions that suit our clients or that improve our processes. As NIBC’s retail offering is online and via intermediaries, I seldomly see our clients, though it gives me energy when realizing the positive impact we have and the difference we make in their lives.
NIBC’s IPO is now done, how has it changed the company?
In my view, NIBC has not materially changed following the IPO. We still want to be the bank that is focused on our clients’ most decisive financial moments in business and in life. This can be a corporate client that wants to expand its business or pursue an acquisition, or it can be a consumer who wants to finance the purchase of a house or save for important future moments.These clients want a bank to be focused on their needs, transparent in what it can do, and to deliver on its promises. Whether we are IPO’d or not, is not relevant for our clients. Besides that, NIBC was already an issuer in the debt capital markets, prior to the IPO. And being a financial institution, we are quite heavily regulated by De Nederlandsche Bank and the Autoriteit Financiële Markten, on top of authorities in the foreign markets in which we are active. So, we were used to having multiple stakeholders.
How does NIBC distinguish itself from other banks?
NIBC’s corporate culture is based on three core values: professional, inventive and entrepreneurial. What stood out for me when I joined NIBC in 2017, was the positive energy I experienced throughout the bank, and the Think Yes mentality. Always difficult to explain this to others how this translates to actions. Perhaps it is simply the result of NIBC’s size. NIBC is large enough to be meaningful, but also small enough for everyone to have an impact and be heard. The effect hereof is that people cooperate and are willing to go the extra mile, that decisions are quick, and that the bank remains focused. Furthermore, what also stands out, is that NIBC provides great opportunities for development. Just looking at my own career. Until I started at NIBC, I always worked in investment or corporate banking, and still NIBC offered me the opportunity to develop myself in retail risk, which was a great sign of trust. Why it did so, is because NIBC does not only look at your education or previous experience. NIBC places more value in personal characteristics.
Does the Dutch climate accords influence NIBC lending policy?
NIBC was established in 1945 to help rebuild The Netherlands after the Second World War. This heritage makes that we are well aware of our obligations to society. Today, our obligations to society are very much focused on creating a sustainable franchise for the future. By supporting our clients in achieving their ambitions, and enabling the building of a better society for future generations. Climate change, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity put gigantic pressure on the environment and the planet’s ecological limits. We are committed to reducing negative impacts on the environment in our business activities and helping clients in their transition towards more responsible practices. In practice, when assessing the risks in a corporate transaction, we also specifically consider sustainability standards, which is also published on our website. We do not only look at our clients, but also act ourselves. NIBC is “carbon neutral” in its own operations. Since 2010, we have measured our carbon emissions, realized substantial reductions and purchased certified gold standard carbon offsets for any remaining emissions. Also, 100% of electricity used in NIBC’s facilities is purchased from clean, renewable sources.
There is a lot of uncertainty about the coming Brexit. How does NIBC deal with that?
Across the bank, we have gathered experts in a working group to consider the impact of Brexit. We have not only looked at our own position, but have also considered the impact Brexit may have on our clients. We talk about it with our clients, as well as with our regulators and other stakeholders. Naturally, we have our contingency plan in place in case Brexit materializes. Whilst NIBC’s activities in the UK are fairly small compared to our total operations, there are still a lot of changes that have had to be made due to Brexit. But because of all these preparations and efforts, we can continue in essentially the same way as we do now, all of our activities in the UK and for our clients that have business activities in the UK. Personally, I believe the impact of Brexit will be far reaching. The time and money spent so far on Brexit in the UK and in Europe is huge, and it has distracted both the UK and Europe from more structural challenges such as climate change. If Brexit leads to many jobs in the financial services industry moving to Europe, this will also impact the wider local economy in the UK, as less people go to restaurants, need childcare, use private schools, or buy flowers for example. The UK being a significant trading country for the Netherlands, this inevitably will have at least some impact for Dutch companies, despite perhaps some jobs and European agencies - such as the EMA - moving here.
What specific characteristics do you look for when hiring graduates?
Our core values, which we refer to as NIBC3, are: professional, inventive and entrepreneurial. These are important traits that we seek in all our employees. We offer a Talent Program for talented analysts. This is a development program focusing on personal development needs and is customized to help our talents land in their new role. To make most of this development program, giving and receiving feedback as well as self-reflection are important. So, being open to feedback is a fourth trait we would look for.
The final question, what would you recommend students for a successful start of their careers?
Do what feels right, seek a steep learning curve and stay curious.