2. Rabobank in 2015

2015 was a crucial year for Rabobank. We decided to strengthen our cooperative and to prepare our organisation for the future. This was necessary in order to continue to be the bank that we want to be, for our customers and our members. Our environment has also changed on many fronts: there were notable economic and social developments, consumer behaviour changed, innovation took off, and new players appeared in the market.

Who we are

Rabobank is an international financial services provider on a cooperative basis. We are active in the field of retail and business banking, private banking, leasing and property. As a cooperative bank, the customer is at the centre of Rabobank's services provision. We want to be a prominent, customer-driven cooperative bank in the Netherlands and a leading global food and agri bank.

During 2015, Rabobank Group consisted of independent local member Rabobanks in the Netherlands and the centralised organisation (Rabobank Nederland) with subsidiaries and associates inside and outside the Netherlands. In December 2015, after an intensive internal dialogue, Rabobank decided to substantially modify its cooperative structure. On 1 January 2016, the local member banks and the centralised organisation merged into one cooperative, with one banking licence and one bank balance sheet, with subsidiaries and associates inside and outside the Netherlands.

Read more about the structural change

Rabobank in a nutshell

Rabobank worldwide

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Read a comprehensive profile of Rabobank in the annual report

Our environment

Trends and developments

Each year we analyse external trends and developments that affect our work. The year 2015 saw many changes in terms of consumer behaviour, technology, innovation, market players, regulations, the economy and society. All these new trends and developments present a number of opportunities and challenges for Rabobank.

Customer behaviour

In the not-so-distant past, Dutch customers managed all their banking needs at a physical bank branch, which was typically located within walking distance (or cycling distance) of their homes.But this situation has changed radically over the past decade, and in 2105 a growing number of customers use their smartphones or tablets to communicate with the bank. This has created a shift in customer contact from 'physically nearby' to a combination of personal attention and 24/7 mobile and online availability.

Read more about online banking

Proactive and flexible

Customers in 2015 expect their bank to be proactive and flexible. Instead of being flooded with information about products, they want to make an appointment or receive an answer to their questions right away. There is also a growing demand for transparency about fees, quality and the products available.

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Well prepared

Increasingly, customers only visit physical bank branches for important appointments, for example to discuss a mortgage or loan. At these key moments, our customers make sure they are well prepared when they arrive for their appointment.This means the bank must continue to provide high-quality services and deliver added value, which requires a wide range of online products, personal services and room for true professionalism. If we are to be and remain the number-one bank for our customers, we need to be able to switch back and forth smoothly between digital and face-to-face contact at times when this is important to the customer.

The art of sharing

Going by the motto 'Sharing is the new buying', many consumers are discovering the benefits of the sharing economy. They are cutting back on purchases because they can access goods and services provided by others who are willing to share them. They, in turn, provide access to their own resources, so that both parties can benefit from each other. Many businesses have embraced this business model: Airbnb, for example, provides an online platform for those seeking or renting accommodation in private homes, so that visitors have an alternative to staying in expensive hotels. The Netherlands-based SnappCar service allows private car owners to rent out their vehicle, while users of the Peerby website can borrow various supplies, utensils and tools from others in their neighbourhood.

Earning trust

Trust in banks has eroded in recent years in the wake of a number of serious incidents affecting the global financial industry and the outbreak of the financial crisis. Rabobank did not come out of this unscathed. In this climate of distrust, customers have little tolerance for any mistakes banks might make. In fact, banks must now prove that they are worthy of customers' trust and respect. We are working on improving the quality of our services step-by-step, which will be visible in all our activities. And if something does go wrong despite our efforts, customers can count on us to fix it and be accountable for our actions.

Read more about 'The bank and its customers'

Smart technology and innovation

Technology and innovation developed at a dizzying pace in 2015. In no time at all, smart businesses are managing to turn their innovative ideas into technologies, business plans or apps. Big data, user-friendliness and distribution and transaction methods are changing and improving dramatically. This has given customers a growing number of opportunities related to digital services, while they are often also in control of the process themselves.

Digital and personal

Rabobank has excellent opportunities to combine digital services with more personal, face-to-face interaction. In order to achieve this, however, we must take our technology to an even higher level. Working without making mistakes is essential, although it's an incredible challenge at the same time. In order to be successful, we must provide outstanding and more tightly managed technological support. Better technology may eventually lead to better services, revenue growth and cost reduction. Innovation will play a key role in all of these changes.

Read more about innovation and Rabobank

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Big data is 'massive'

The heaps of data stored by various types of devices, consumers and businesses collectively make up a massive source of information. Rabobank would like to use this data to make our products and services more effective and provide more information to customers. For instance, we can share specific industry data with clients whom we know to be employed in a specific industry. At the same time, the use of customer data is a hot-button issue, and we should emphasise that Rabobank never shares its customers' personal data with any third parties.

New market players

A growing number of new businesses are entering the financial sector. These are typically not banks in the traditional sense, but rather powerhouses in technology or small startups. They tend to focus on a single element in the banking supply chain using a fresh, original and customer-oriented approach. Many of these new players successfully launch innovative concepts that are among the most user-friendly and most competitively priced around. Unencumbered by the traditional banking business models, they tend to be less weighed down by strict laws and regulations than their more conventional peers. Even Apple and Google have entered the financial services market.

Eye for innovation

Trends and developments in financial technology (fintech) present a number of new opportunities and challenges for Rabobank. We firmly believe we can make a difference with our unique market position, knowledge of our customers and the proposition of being 'nearby' these customers. Meanwhile, we are keeping an eye out for new innovations by supporting a variety of startups and new businesses. We are also forging ahead with our own innovations. In 2015 we launched the new Rabo Banking App, managed to take the electronic payment method Rabo Wallet to the next level and teamed up with our subsidiary Obvion to create an innovative new mortgage for freelancers or flex workers.

Read more about innovation


The Dutch and eurozone economies are showing tentative growth again. The Netherlands is exhibiting one of the healthiest growth rates in Europe after many years of underperformance. A key factor is that domestic expenditure is up again after many years of contraction. While exports will remain the key growth driver of the Dutch economy, the Dutch are nevertheless cautious and uncertain given the high level of instability in the world.

Unemployment and the housing market

Unemployment at year-end 2016 is expected to remain at 6%. While this may be low from an international perspective, it remains relatively high by Dutch standards. A growing number of households are floating back into positive equity on the back of increasing property values, but this certainly does not apply to all homeowners who were hit by negative equity during the housing market's massive downturn several years ago. 'Negative equity' refers to the situation where a property's market value is lower than the outstanding amount of the mortgage loan.

Low interest rates necessitate higher margins

The substantial debts throughout the Western world and the expansionary monetary policies of many countries would lead us to conclude that interest rates will remain low in the foreseeable future. This has reduced options for banks, insurers and pension funds to earn money from an interest rate position. These players will, in the future, also be compelled to increase their margins in order to offset the lower interest income.

Read the Outlook 2016 report by Rabobank economists

Laws and regulations

Various laws and regulations are designed to ensure a public, competitive and accessible banking system. At the same time, they are also expected to prevent violations and protect customer privacy. The issue of privacy is of particular concern to consumers, since a growing amount of data (including personal data) is publicly available and accessible.

Intervening regulators

Regulators worldwide are tightening their grip on the banking industry, and US regulations, in particular, have a major impact on global markets. The Volcker Rule, for example, prohibits banks from exposing themselves to unauthorised risks through proprietary trading. Banks remain authorised to buy and sell shares and bonds, but only based on customer demand and not to generate additional income for their own accounts. The regulators are pursuing these policies on a precautionary basis in order to prevent a future credit crisis.

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Seizing opportunities

Changes in laws and regulations are occurring at a faster pace and have a significant impact on our activities. Yet the actual impact is difficult to estimate at this point. Switching providers will become easier, as will sharing data and information. But will large numbers of customers actually end up making that switch? Are they willing to trust new companies that are looking to use their bank details? Rabobank is focusing more than ever on customer contact, privacy guarantees and seizing opportunities for innovation.

Social trends

Urban migration

The trend of urbanisation and demographic ageing continues to boom, in the Netherlands and elsewhere. A total of 55 percent of the global population currently lives in cities. This number is expected to rise to around 70% by 2050. The gap between urban and rural areas in terms of population structure and economic strength also continues to increase.

Improvement and focus

The earning capacity of the Dutch economy is under continuous pressure. Although the standard of living and productivity levels in the Netherlands remain relatively high, the competitiveness of the Dutch economy is weakening. As a country with scarce natural resources operating in a globalising world economy, this calls for ongoing improvement and a focus on adaptability.

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Funding and economic boost

As a leading bank for the business community, Rabobank has a key role to play, not only in directly financing growth and fast-growing businesses, but also by boosting entrepreneurship and innovation. As the market leader in the SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) sector, we will use our know-how, networks and financing options more actively in those sectors that help boost our country’s earning capacity. Agriculture and food are obviously at the forefront of this development, but there is plenty of focus on other industries and activities as well.

Uncertain times

Uncertainty in the Netherlands is growing. Permanent employment contracts are increasingly hard to come by and the number of independent freelancer workers is growing steadily. The labour market requires that workers undergo continuous education and training to improve their skills. In a concurrent trend, people no longer have the traditional security of a pension fund to fall back on.

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Housing, pensions and healthcare

The housing market has yet to adapt to economic trends and changes. There is a shortage of rental homes and there are limited options for small businesses. The supply of supplementary pension arrangements or integrated work-healthcare facilities to accommodate an ageing population leaves much to be desired. Opportunities are present for Rabobank to support people during crucial periods in their lives.

It is increasingly important for Rabobank to fulfil its goal of supporting people during life’s key moments. The pressure on freedom of choice - especially for young people - continues to increase and people need modern solutions for present day living situations.

From public to private initiative

The collective welfare and social safety nets are being cut back in the Netherlands, making the system less sustainable for the future. Some social security measures are now the responsibility of local authorities, with varying results. Services that were once covered under the public sector are now being organised through private initiatives. The bank would like to play a role in reorganising these collective provisions.

Some examples include PGGM, the collective pension administrator for Rabo BedrijvenPensioen for companies who employ personnel, and Rabobank PPI (Pension Premium Institution). Through its PPI, Rabobank aims to use the strength of the group to help its customers' employees with their private financial issues. An illustration that the pension and banking worlds continue to move closer together, not only through political trends and standardisation of products, but also via strategic and social choices made by Rabobank itself.

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Urban and rural

A growing portion of the population will be based in urban areas in the Netherlands in the future, while rural areas will be affected by large-scale population loss. The rural and urban dynamics are different depending on whether they are gaining or losing population. A cooperative bank such as Rabobank is responsible for reinforcing these transitions in various regions.

Banking for the Netherlands

The earning capacity, the organisation of public initiatives, personal development and growth, are items on the economic agenda of the Netherlands, and, by extension, Rabobank. See our vision 'Banking for the Netherlands' for further information.

Banking for Food

The global population is growing. Most of this growth is taking place in developing countries. Spending on food is increasing faster than population growth. This means that the global food shortage is one of the biggest issues facing society today: how do we make sure everyone has enough to eat in future? Rabobank aims to make both an economic and a social contribution, as described in its vision ‘Banking for Food’.

Read more about Banking for Food

Our conclusions in a nutshell

  • Customer needs are changing. Increasingly, face-to-face contact is being replaced by digital interaction. We therefore need to invest in the quality of our services and innovation to improve customer services.
  • Advances in technology call for a proactive, efficient customer approach and provide us with opportunities to combine online services with personal attention.
  • To meet customer needs, we will proactively monitor innovations in, and related to, the financial industry and we will enter into strategic partnerships.
  • Driven by the current economy and other factors, we need to operate on a cost-effective basis.
  • Regulators are having a growing impact on the ways in which banks can provide their services.
  • Various social changes demonstrate a global trend towards the cooperative model. Together we are stronger in a changing and uncertain world.

Read more about our mission and strategy