Here in the Untied States, ING Direct, a banking arm of the large financial company ING Group from the Netherlands, offers more than just high-yield online savings accounts. The bank also offers investments and mortgages, and some of the latter may have been too risky, like those sold and packaged into securities by domestic banks.
ING Group received a taxpayer bailout of €10 billion ($14.9 billion) and the European Commission is forcing the financial company to restructure in order to repay this loan. Part of this deal involves taking ING’s insurance companies public and selling the United States’ ING Direct by 2013.
The effect of this sale remains to be seen. Some time between today and the end of 2013, ING Direct will be owned by another company. This bank was one of the first to operate without any brick-and-mortar branches and the first to be an unmitigated success. When I first started paying attention to my finances at the start of this decade, the recommendations for ING Direct flowed from every information channel. With the highest interest rates in the savings account business, unusually capable customer service, and a slick and functional website, the bank was a favorite among the die-hard personal finance fans at the Motley Fool discussion boards.
More recently, ING Direct has moved from excellent to very good. I still recommend this bank to people who want a hassle-free experience, but their rates are no longer as competitive and their electronic checking account is not the best in class. For those with more money to put in savings, those who would benefit from a higher interest rate, I usually offer additional options.
ING Direct’s corporate message in response to those customers concerned about recent news of the impending sale is that your money is safe. I don’t think safety is the real concern. Accounts at the bank are insured by the FDIC, so even if the bank fails safety isn’t a problem. These are the questions you should have right now:
- Who will purchase the bank and will ING Direct’s core values change?
- If the core values change, will they be for the better (more competitive interest rates, for example) or for the worse (scaled back operations and customer service, for example)?
- What new account fees will be introduced?
- ING Direct employs about 1,200 in Delaware and another thousand more across the country. Will they have jobs and for how long?
These questions will not be answered for some time.
I do not see the announcement of this sale as a reason to move money out of ING Direct now. I will be watching developments closely, however. With the bulk of my savings in ING Direct, I am very sensitive to the fact that they do not offer the highest interest rate available. For years, the bank has counted on customers like me: those who first deposited when the interest rates were high and competitive and who have stayed around as other banks consistently offer higher rates. But I do not owe my loyalty to a company and will be quick to shop around if I am no longer getting a good deal considering cost, return, and service.
Photo credit: diaper
ING to sell Delaware-based bank in [sic] 2013, Eric Ruth, The News Journal, October 27, 2009
Post-Bailout Blues as Europe Orders ING Group to Sell 2 Units, Eric Dash, New York Times, October 26, 2009