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ABN AMRO Bank's Sales Transformation with Self-Organising Teams

Fri, 23 Dec 2022

Rik Coeckelbergs Founder and CEO The Banking Scene

ABN AMR Os Sales Transformation with Self Organising Teams Klaas Ariaans Featured

I shared a blog two years ago about "How video banking changed the way ABN AMRO interacts with its clients". It was the feedback on a session we organised with Klaas Ariaans, Managing Director of Consumer Clients at ABN AMRO.

Although it was mind-blowing how video banking helped ABN AMRO exponentially reduce its branches while maintaining continued service through the lockdown, it was only half of the story.

On December 15, we asked Klaas to join us again for a session on the organisational changes he realised within his department of 3.500 employees. In parallel with the rollout of video bank, 'beeldbankieren', Klaas and his team started thinking: "suppose we can work everywhere, from anyplace, anytime, any moment, wouldn't it be great to have more mandate for our people to decide what's really good for a customer?"

What is self-organisation?

That is how their journey to self-organisation, a self-organised way of working, started.

Google explains self-organisation as: "The term self-organisation refers to the process by which individuals organise their communal behaviour to create global order by interactions amongst themselves rather than through external intervention or instruction."

Translated to the context of ABN AMRO Bank, this becomes: within a framework, people can decide how to organise their work with the intention to end up with a more efficient and effective organisation, in combination with a better work environment for both employees and customers.

Klaas explained it with the example of complaints handling, which until then scored an average of 4/10 based on customer feedback. In the spirit of self-organisation, they decided to give employees the mandate to compensate or solve complaints straight away for complaints up to 500 euro’s.

Although the cost of solving complaints went up within three months, two positive things happened. First, it created much more transparency for the organisation to see what was going wrong. Also, both employees and customers felt much better about the process and results of the complaints.

It led to a lot of problem-solving to avoid paying more in the future and ensuring better customer service. Klaas: "My own workforce sees what is happening, they see what's going wrong, they can see what's working well. They also have excellent ideas about how to solve things one way or another. So that's what I'm trying to do. That's not only from an innovation point of view but also from a budget point of view."

So ABN AMRO set up ownerships that everyone can join to solve missing links in the process or to build new improvements.

The framework that set the boundaries in which teams organised themselves included the KPI setting. They reduced the number of 35 KPIs into a more digestible number of 7, including five sales KPIs and two customer account KPIs: the usage of video banking and the transactional NPS.

Klaas: "Since we started the journey to a self-organised way of working, the NPS is only going up. My transactional NPS is now plus 52, compared to a much lower relational NPS for ABN AMRO." The idea is that improving the process, with a direct positive impact on the transactional NPS, will, in the long run, also positively affect the relational NPS.

Lessons learned from implementing the self-organisation model

Expert teams work better

Looking back at this 4-year journey, Klaas learned that the best departments to set up this model are the ones where experts work. In the beginning, they set up their teams in a multidisciplinary way. Different capabilities were mixed in a team for the best customer experience. It didn't work.

Different disciplines had different ways of working, leading to too many internal discussions and conflicts.

After a year, they changed this to a model of expert teams. While servicing the customer remotely, will help the customer to connect with the right person and expertise almost instantly. Suppose an investment advisor has an appointment with a client through video banking, and this customer has a real estate question, they could be reconnected instantly to a mortgage expert, for example.

In environments like agile IT projects, multidisciplinary teams still work better, by the way, and ABN AMRO is actively using both methodologies depending on the context people work.

Keep the teams small

Klaas implemented self-organisation in the sales department and learned that teams should remain reasonably small for an optimal return. Klaas: "We created 350 teams, and every team had 10 members. We saw that if you give people room to manoeuvre within a framework, they can solve almost everything on their own. My experience is that most of the teams will figure out how to make it work, whatever that is."

Making the team bigger reduces interpersonal contact and psychological safety, which are crucial for making self-organisation successful.

Change the role of the manager

Klaas reduced the number of managers from 280 to 25 people. He explained that their focus is to work on the system, not in the system. They constantly work with internal stakeholders of the sales departments to make it easier to organise themselves. They don't have a mandate for coaching or directly managing people within the sales organisation.

Klaas: "I have worked in the financial industry for almost 30 years. So I'm used to much hierarchy. I can imagine many tend to think people will always misuse the freedom they get. My experience is rather the opposite."

Let people feel experimenting is a good thing

People need to experience that they can try and experiment with things. After all those years of following procedures, it takes time to make people conscious of that. However, many good things happened once they understood that they could experiment.

"We introduced that branches could choose their own opening hours", he explained. "I was scared they would close the branch for half the week. In reality, it was exactly the opposite. Several teams have more opening hours during the week now to serve their clients."

In the next phase, they will allow people to work only 80% of their current job while using the remaining 20% for experimentation. This could be anything: from trying different jobs within the organisation and assisting in internal projects to developing a new idea that could benefit the organisation.


Times a changing, and banks need to adapt. From what I heard, I see that both employees and ABN AMRO became more resilient in dealing with change. The organisation needed to break much silo- and procedure thinking, they needed to lose control. And by doing that, I believe they gained more control over the changing context banks are working in.

As we will look for a new ethos in banking in 2023, this story should not be neglected. For that reason, we are excited to share that Klaas will be among the speakers at #TBSCONF23AMS on March 21 and #TBSCONF23BXL on May 16.

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