Customers loyal to ING Direct's no-frills offerings and "save your money" credo can expect to see few changes once it's scooped up by Canada's third-largest bank.
Scotiabank announced plans Wednesday to buy ING from its Dutch parent for more than $3-billion in order to stake out a bigger share of the Canadian consumer market.
ING Direct will go by a different name 18 months from now, but its products, services and pricing will remain untouched, said Anatol von Hahn, who heads up Scotiabank's Canadian banking group.
"It's a proven, successful formula that has done very well over the last 15 years," Mr. von Hahn said. "That won't change."
ING customers will be able to handle their accounts the same way they always have – online, or by phone, he added. Even their account numbers and passwords will remain the intact.
Scotiabank intends to keep the ING branding – namely, the orange lion logo and "save your money" motto – for at least 14 months after the deal closes and change the name of the business within 18 months.
"I guess the obvious question is 'Will it have Scotiabank in the name?' I'd say 99.9 per cent no," Mr. von Hahn said. "We want to keep it very, very distinct … and keep what ING has built."
Most of ING Direct's 1.8 million customers also do business with major bricks-and-mortar banks. For instance, they may sock away their savings in an ING registered retirement savings plan or tax-free savings account, but keep chequing accounts or mortgages at Scotiabank or one of its peers.
There are no plans to cross-sell between ING and Scotiabank, Mr. von Hahn said. "ING will compete in the open market with Scotia as it does with any of the other Canadian banks."
However, ING Direct – which has been growing at a rate of 100,000 to 120,000 new customers per year in the past two years – does plan to grow its services independently of Scotiabank.
For instance, ING Direct president and CEO Peter Aceto told a conference call Wednesday one potential new product in the pipeline is a credit card, in addition to more "day-to-day banking aids."
Enhanced mortgage lending could also be part of ING's future, he said.
"We're very optimistic about our ability to originate more mortgages through our direct channel. Our customers are asking for us to do that more and more all the time and as Canadians become more and more comfortable with doing business in a direct way, we're really the best option for them to do that," he said.
Mark Vandenbosch, a marketing professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business, said ING customers are drawn to its "rebel" brand that positions it as an alternative to the big banks. So Scotiabank will have to walk a fine balance if it wants to keep ING loyalists on board.
"People went to ING for a reason, and part of that was the rebel reason. First, I can save my money, but also I didn't have to deal with a big bank," said Mr. Vandenbosch, who is based in London, Ont. "If they start messing with that relationship, that could be problematic."
Scotiabank has been chasing after a younger client base, through partnerships with Cineplex and the NHL, said Queen's University Marketing professor Kenneth Wong.
He sees the ING acquisition as part of that trend, since it would tap into a frugal, cost-conscious clientele that doesn't need services like estate planning, insurance or tax advice.
"Young people – they naturally want to do more things on the Internet, and so ING becomes a perfect fit."
Customers were "uneasy" when TD Bank bought Canada Trust more than a decade ago, Prof. Wong said.
"You had two brands there with very different profiles and different audiences and TD was smart enough to maintain what they were good at and supplement that with what Canada Trust was good at," he said. "If Scotiabank is smart, they'll do the same thing."
In this case, it's important that Scotiabank keep ING distinct when it comes to branding.
"What you don't want is Scotiabank customers resenting the fact that ING customers are getting, for example, no-fee chequing. That would irritate that base," Prof. Wong said.