Have Lunch With the Girls at the Bank: The New ING DIRECT Café Toronto

May 12, 2011 8:30 AM

ING Direct CafeI don’t ever recall walking out of a bank feeling as relaxed or stress-free as when I first walked in.  Whether it be the long velvet-roped lineups, the constant solicitation by unqualified bank tellers of financial products I don’t need, or the hopeless debates over excessive banking fees – I’m just incapable of leaving a bank on a high note. It seems that banks have lost the personal approach they once had, where banking was a very localized affair, where you set up your account at your local branch, and your business stayed there until you moved somewhere else. You could easily walk into a bank and sit down with a professional that got to know you well over the years, and could genuinely help you gain insight on your financial future. Today, with consolidation within the industry and the emergence of multinational giants, the bank’s relationship with you is simple – get you to buy as many of their financial products as possible, and secure as much of your financial business – a very impersonal approach. Fortunately, most people became more and more conscious of this and that sparked the demand for something new and fresh in the industry, which set the stage for ING Direct.

Reinventing Retail Banking
ING Direct launched their business in 1997, and since then has grown at a tremendous rate. They reinvented the retail banking industry by creating the first ever bank that has no physical branch locations. The theory is that the money they save on not being a typical brick and mortar business is used to pay higher interest on savings and investments, and offer bank accounts with no service fees. This sure trumps the other players in terms of inventiveness… their only response over the last 14 years has been to increase their hours of operations, which in turn has led to ever-increasing service fees.

ING still doesn’t have physical branch locations, as all transactions are performed either online, over the phone, or at ABM locations. However, I was recently invited to the grand opening of their newest ING DIRECT café in the heart of downtown Toronto, and I was very impressed with this new concept in the banking industry. Peter Aceto, President and CEO of ING, was on hand along with guest speaker David Chilton, who is best known as the author of the national best seller The Wealthy Barber: The Common Sense Guide To Successful Financial Planning. Both speakers had sound financial advice to share, but I was too busy appreciating the look and feel of the café and all it had to offer.

Breaking Down the Barriers Between People and Their Money
To give you a brief idea, the café is laid out over two floors, with comfortable sofas and leather armchairs on the first floor and modern conference and meeting rooms with full amenities on the second floor. The brick walls, wooden pillars and wall of foliage give it a modern studio apartment feel, while maintaining the professional look of a business. The café offers an assortment of beverages and vegan snacks as well as free WiFi service throughout the space. If you don’t have your handheld device with you, feel free to use one of their iPads on site. The waiting staff – or nouveau bank tellers – are also financial experts and are more than willing to assist you with any banking or finance-related questions. Rest assured though, that they are only there to assist you when called upon, and not to nauseate you with financial product pitches.

The café concept is revolutionary, in that they strive to be a place that breaks down the barriers between people and their money. It’s a place to relax, exhale, and gain perspective on important financial issues that can impact our futures. The open forum setting allows for discussion and opinion sharing, which is exactly what is needed in these rapidly evolving capital markets. With similar locations in four major Canadian cities, and seven American cities, ING is constantly reinventing the banking industry and the way in which it operates. And ING is still considered a financial institution that operates with no physical branches, which means it continues to be one of the only banks that offers no-fee daily chequing accounts. Finally an enjoyable banking experience.

ING Cafe Toronto

For more images and details on the restoration of the building by ING at 221 Yonge at Shuter Street, visit BlogTO.


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