A good fit after all
Eva van Weel has been an IT trainee at ING since October 2016. She shares her latest experiences here every few weeks.
I can’t explain why exactly, but I’ve wanted to live and work in Spain for a long time. I first went on holiday there with my father, many years ago, and I immediately felt a ‘click’ with the country and was fascinated by the language. When I was older I toured France and Spain in a motorhome with my boyfriend, and I fell in love with the country even more. So when I got the chance to do a rotation for ING abroad, it was an easy decision to make. But of course you don’t choose an STA abroad for the country alone, so I made a point of finding out which kind of projects I could do at ING Spain. Were they working on anything related to data science or artificial intelligence? The ING intranet page listed one position in Spain, but it was within a team that was involved in modelling credit risk, among other things. However, the vacancy description also contained one paragraph about data science…I doubted whether I would be a good fit for the role, because I’m an IT trainee and actually know very little about risk modelling. But a fellow trainee, Robin, knew someone in the Spanish team and sent him an email on my behalf. We didn’t receive a reply, so after a while I took the initiative myself and approach the team manager. They had received my CV but initially didn’t think I was the right person for the project, so they’d assigned it to another trainee. I was so disappointed! And so was the team manager, because when I told her about my experience with artificial intelligence (AI) and data science she became increasingly interested. To cut a long story short: they created a role for me, and I’m now working here at ING Spain, as a data scientist in the Modelling & Data Lab.
I’m involved in a ‘smart dialogue’ project for the whole of ING Spain. We’re exploring how we can further personalise customer interaction. We’ve investigated a number of models that have been developed (or are still being developed) at ING in Belgium and we’re examining whether we could use them in Spain too. The models identify and signal milestones in a customer’s life, such as having children, buying a house, getting divorced, the kids going to college; these are all events that have a big impact on a person’s financial situation. We want to tailor our interaction as closely as possible to such events. What does the customer need in terms of products at that point? My assignment was still fairly broad so I couldn’t dive into it immediately. Instead, for the first month I split my time between studying for my Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA ) Level I exam, which forms part of the traineeship, and working on improving my engineering skills by following an online course in SQL programming. So the first month was definitely well-spent!
And I’m now fully immersed in my assignment. I’m focusing on data science for ING Spain’s mortgage portfolio. If we can predict that someone is likely to start house-hunting soon, we can tailor our communication with them to include mortgages. Various campaigns run for the various ING products throughout the year. If, before the start of the mortgages campaign, we can use customer behaviour (which web pages they visit, which information they request…) to identify which customers are most likely to apply for a mortgage, then we can have as big as possible an impact on those customers.
I will also be starting on another project within the team in the near future, which is similar to the ‘look ahead’ functionality in the mobile banking app. It has already been rolled out in the Netherlands; it’s a really useful feature that gives customers insight into which future outgoings they can expect. In Spain, rather than becoming part of the app, it will be used as another way to personalise customer interaction. For example, if the monthly mortgage repayment still has to be made but a customer doesn’t have enough money in his account, he will be sent an alert advising him to transfer some money from his savings account to his current account. That’s ‘smart dialogue’. We also want to use deep learning in this project, which is a fairly new AI technique that ING is working on in a joint collaboration between the Netherlands and Germany.
So I definitely can’t complain about a lack of interesting projects! I felt at home here in no time, both in Spain and within my team. There was an almost immediate click with the people here. I often get told that I’m not a ‘typical’ Dutch person. Often, Dutch people tend to have a strong circle of friends, family and colleagues, but it can be hard for outsiders to break into that. It’s much easier to make new contacts here and you’re immediately made to feel welcome. In the Netherlands, it’s generally perceived as ‘strange’ if you just start talking to someone you don’t know, but I’ve always done that on train journeys and suchlike (and yes, my friends often find that weird!). But that’s acceptable here, because everyone is really friendly and open. We always drink coffee together at the start of the day and chat about what’s going on in our personal lives. And lunch is a lengthy occasion. That’s really handy for me because I can just tag along too which makes it easy to get to know people. The way people interact with one another, the culture, the food...I love it all. But of course I miss the Netherlands too – my boyfriend, my friends and family, my role with the scouts and horse riding. I’ve joined a swimming club as a new sporting activity; it’s not only a great way to relax and keep fit, but it’s also really funny. The teacher doesn’t speak English, so I now know the Spanish words for butterfly stroke and flippers J And besides that I’ve started learning Bachata dancing!
I’m gradually getting to grips with the language. I can read and understand it reasonably well, but I still find it difficult to speak it myself. Once I’ve passed my CFA (fingers crossed!), I’m really going to focus on learning the language. Needless to say, I don’t want to leave here without being to speak Spanish pretty well. ¡Es muy importante para mí!
By the way, I was briefly back in the Netherlands in early June, because my team (the people from my first rotation) and I were in the ING Innovation Bootcamp final. More than 800 ideas were submitted for this competition worldwide, and we made it to the final eight! During the Final Event on 8 June our team’s two pitchers presented our idea and we were voted the ‘most disruptive idea’. We won the Bootcamp! When I joined that team, I never imagined we’d get so far. The whole project was also really fun and interesting to do; ING has developed its own innovation methodology called ‘Pace’ that we worked with throughout the competition. As the winner, we get funding to launch an internal start-up – but I probably won’t be involved in it right from day one, because the start-up isn’t yet focused on AI. Besides that, upon my return from Spain, I hope to join the Wholesale Banking Advanced Analytics Team because it’s a team where I feel I can learn a huge amount from a technical perspective.
Eva did a bachelor’s and a master’s in artificial intelligence at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). She lives with her boyfriend in Haarlem, where they bought a house together a couple of years ago. Eva comes from an entrepreneurial family, has been a keen horse rider since the age of seven, recently joined a ‘carousel group’ (“like synchronised swimming for horse dressage”) and has been involved in the scout movement for as long as she can remember. She is currently leader of a group of cub scouts, which she finds very energising. “Every Saturday morning I try to keep a group of enthusiastic, excitable kids under control, haha...!”