Interview with the Chairman of our Supervisory Board

Chairman Tom de Swaan talks about strategy, working with the Executive Board, and using compliance to create long-term value.

I don’t think there is ever a moment when you say, ‘OK, the strategy is there, we’re going to execute’. It’s a continuous process. Tom de Swaan Chairman of the ABN AMRO Supervisory Board

ABN AMRO updated its strategy in November 2018. In your view, how well is the bank implementing this strategy?

“I don’t think there is ever a moment when you say, ‘OK, the strategy is there, we’re going to execute’. It’s a continuous process. Overall, we’re on track. If you look across the financial sector, there are certainly issues out there, especially on detecting financial crime and the pressure we are seeing from negative interest rates. There are longer-term issues, too: what will be banks’ contribution to a future digitalised economy, for example? On digitalisation, we’re clearly at the forefront of banks in the Netherlands.”

What about the relationship between the Executive Board and Supervisory Board? How well are they working together?

“It’s working very well. We’ve spent a lot of time together. The tone at the top is very important. At the same time, we have brought in lots of banking experience, with the appointments of Anna StorÃ¥kers and Michiel Lap. Laetitia Griffith just joined in December. She brings something different – a lot of knowledge on the legal side, social issues and the environment. That’s also very important. Overall, the composition is good. One issue we’ll have to consider is diversity. That’s still lacking – not just gender diversity, but diversity more generally. Diversity will be high on the Supervisory Board’s agenda for the coming year.”

What’s your outlook for 2020? What will be the challenges for ABN AMRO?

“It will depend very much on the macro-economic environment. If you look at the projections, it seems we’ll have a positive year. But we’ll still see pressure on the top-line because of negative interest rates – and we’ll have to find solutions to cope with that. We have already put some measures in place. It’s important, though, that we have a positive outlook. Internally, we need to focus on HR – on talent development and talent spotting. We have to have a culture within the bank so that, despite what’s happening in the world around us, we continue to create value.”

Last year, what were the main topics for the Supervisory Board? Obviously, the public prosecutor’s investigation must have taken a lot of time?

“Yes, that’s an important topic – it took up a lot of time. When it comes to compliance, we should see it as a value creator. People want a bank that is safe and reliable. Compliance can be perceived sometimes as a hassle because of the extra information and documentation we need to ask from our clients, but it creates real value. It’s an opportunity to communicate with your clients – to give them a sense of the value we offer as a bank. During the year, we also discussed the performance of the bank, particularly given negative interest rates. And we spent a lot of time on Kees van Dijkhuizen’s succession. In 2020, we’ll devote a lot of time to the longer-term agenda for the bank: digitalisation, the use of data, artificial intelligence, the platform economy, and so on. We will have deep dives on longer-term issues.”

You mention Kees’s succession – how do you look back on his time as CEO?

“He has had a very important role. He has steered the bank well, among others in terms of sustainability, in making the bank fit for purpose, future-proof. What Kees has done well is to translate this into real action. We’re not there yet – it’s a continuous process. Kees has served the bank in an exemplary fashion. ABN AMRO owes him a great deal. We’ve nominated Robert Swaak as Kees’s successor. The appointment still has to be approved by the regulator. But Robert will bring a host of experience – he spent a long time with PwC, so there’s hardly a bank in Europe he hasn’t seen from the inside, either as an advisor or an auditor.”