Jan Hommen moves fast. Days after the chief executive of ING Groep NV struck a deal to sell his company's U.S. online bank to Capital One Financial Corp. for $9 billion, the Amsterdam-based behemoth on June 20 confirmed that it may sell its car-leasing business, estimated to be worth up to €4 billion ($5.7 billion).
Although the car unit was not on the list of targeted asset sales, ING underscored that it is constantly reviewing its portfolio as the Netherlands' largest financial services provider, currently operating in more than 40 countries, reinvents itself as a predominantly European lender.
The task, largely forced by European Commission demands, appears to be in capable hands with the 68-year-old Hommen. He has led ING to a fourfold increase in net profit in 2010, his first full year as CEO, to €3.89 billion. In the first quarter of 2011, ING posted a higher-than-expected 12% jump in net income to €1.38 billion and achieved a 10% Tier 1 capital ratio.
"Hommen has a clear vision about what he wants to accomplish and how to get there,'" says Lemer Salah, an analyst with SNS Securities NV in Amsterdam who recommends buying ING shares. "That is the major strength of ING, compared with its regional peers."
ING has gotten higher-than-expected returns on its first few asset sales since European Union regulators ordered the Dutch lender to trim its balance sheet by 45% in return for state aid approval.
The Capital One deal came after a competitive auction that attracted General Electric Co., CIT Group Inc., Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. The disposals, with the bulk of them yet to come, are part of a streamlining plan outlined by Hommen shortly after he became CEO. EU regulators forced Hommen to sell off much more than originally planned.
A daunting task under normal economic circumstances is even more so amid growing concerns that a Greek debt default could cause the European -- perhaps even the global -- financial sector to implode. "The banking system in Europe remains very fragile," says Nicolas Véron, a senior fellow at Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank.
The crisis hit especially hard in the Netherlands, where ING, ABN Amro Bank NV, SNS Reaal NV and insurer Aegon NV all received government bailouts. In fact, relative to its European peers, the Dutch financial system received among the greatest levels of government support, relative to its GDP. That's partly because the financial sector represented a large share of the economy before the crisis, Standard & Poor's points out. Three of the country's four largest lenders (including ING) were forced to regroup and restructure.
In November 2008 ING became the second Dutch lender to get state support when it issued €10 billion in core Tier 1 securities to the government. Five months later, Hommen took the reins at ING, which had also just slashed 7,000 jobs and posted a fourth-quarter loss of €3.3 billion.
Hommen was seen as a logical choice to succeed Michel Tilmant, having served on ING's supervisory board since 2005. He would soon draw on lessons learned from turning Royal Philips Electronics NV from an unwieldy conglomerate into a more focused company during his eight-year stint as CFO.
He also made use of his experience dealing with the American banking system during more than two decades in the U.S. at aluminum company Alcoa Inc., where he also served as CFO. (Hommen joined Alcoa after it acquired Lips Aluminum, where he had been working as an accountant.)
At ING, Hommen has much work yet to do. In the short term, the lender has promised to repay the outstanding €3 billion in government aid by May. However, it remains locked in a legal battle with the European Commission, which in 2009 blocked its attempt to repay state aid early. A court ruling on the matter may come later this year.
The company has given itself until the end of 2013 to complete the separation of its banking and insurance businesses, with plans to launch two initial public offerings, one for the U.S. and the other for European and Asian operations.
"For ING the main challenge will be the IPOs of the insurance activities," says Dirk Peeters, a Brussels-based analyst with KBC Securities NV. At the start of this year, ING began to run its banking and insurance businesses as separate operations, the first step toward the eventual listings.
Especially in today's roiling financial markets, Hommen won't be rash, but he's moving, as they say, with all deliberate speed.