Friday, December 30, 2011

ING...splashy "orange" soiree launches Direct Cafe in San Francisco!











Yesterday afternoon, ING - the bank with the ubiquitous presence on the Internet - splashed downtown San Francisco with a dollop of brilliant "orange" at their spanking-new ING Direct Cafe launch - which got underway at about 2 p.m. in the middle of the afternoon just off Union Square.

While solemn bankers waited on bored customers shifting their feet back-and-forth at Chase and Citibank branches just a hop-and-a-skip away down the street - account-holders and potential new clients at ING lounged about high-tech environs (the orange and silver color scheme complemented the slate-black straight-back chairs, eclectic hardwood tables, and pricey bleached floors underfoot) as they tossed back imported ales, devoured delectable pastries (courtesy of "Wholesome Bakery" and "Sweet Constructions") and chatted up a stream of well-wishers there to tout the banking innovator's expansion in the Bay area.

At the sparkling new 17,000-square-foot facility (housed in the former Diesel apparel store) staff members have been skillfully trained to whip up lattes, answer questions about checking accounts and mortgages, and work the call center on the top floor.

Teller windows have gone by the way of the dinosaur, too.

Although there is an ATM on site, employees are barred from dispensing cash for banking purposes, go figure.

The "suits" behind the visionary attempt to transform the banking system are counting on account-holders (and potentially-new clients) to pop in and take advantage of their informal social hub for personal and professional reasons.

To facilitate that end, meeting spaces have been set up, which are equipped with iPad-controlled audiovisual equipment so that small businesses and nonprofits can hold gatherings for up to 40 or 50 people (at no charge).

San Francisco is the eighth city to be given the nod by ING Direct.

Due to poor planning (and a bad location) an ING Direct Cafe (near the 405 Freeway) hasn't fared too well, but ING's top honchos in San Francisco are optimistic about the prospects.

As I sipped my wine, and glanced around at the guests, it was evident to me that ING just may be able to pull off the coup of the year here!

Somehow I got the distinct impression that the cozy banking outlet may appeal to the almighty 99%, too!
"Even though 90 percent of our business is on the phone and Internet, people still want to connect and hang out," he explains.

"People want to know you are real and part of their community. People want to have conversations about money," one Exec piped up at press time.

"The cafe raises awareness of the ING brand - best known for its bright orange signage - and helps reassure people "who kind of trust the Internet but don't," a gentleman who identified himself as Mr. Kuhlmann says.

He underscored that opening a cafe usually leads to a 10 percent increase in interest locally in the opening of accounts.

According to ING Direct's enthusiastic reps - gushing with pride over the venture - the foreign-based banking institution boasts 7.5 million customers and $83 billion in deposits.

ING has developed a loyal following among customers who like its simple customer-friendly approach to banking apparently.

Kuhlmann says the backlash against traditional banks is working in its favor.

"We're a bit like Southwest Airlines. We don't take this banking thing too serious," he says.
ING Direct is the U.S. subsidiary of ING Group, a Dutch banking and insurance giant, that received a bailout in 2009.

As part of the bailout, the European Union required the parent company to sell its U.S. bank holdings and other subsidiaries.

This summer, Capital One Financial agreed to pay $9 billion in cash and stock for ING Direct USA.

The deal is awaiting regulatory approval.

ING Direct signed a 10-year lease on the Union Square property, so if you read between the lines - well - it looks like the deal may be a sure-thing.

The nifty eye-catching cafe was designed by Pompei A.D., which also has done work for retailers such as Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters.





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