Interview by John Harrison
When did you move to Russia? How long have you been working for ING here?
We moved in 2012, so I have been here for almost three years. And, I think, one of the most astonishing experiences and impressions about the country is that time passes extremely quickly. I believe that this is linked to the ever-changing environment; not only in the geopolitical sense â there is never a dull moment.
Before I came here I worked for ING in Belgium and also in Australia, so this is not my first posting abroad. I recall that when the CEO asked me if I wanted to go to Russia, I said: âRussia?â. Relocating overseas to a foreign country is adventurous and also challenging, both then and now. So, right then lots of questions came to mind: âHow about the overall safety in Moscow?â, âHow good is the health care system in Russia and do I need special vaccinations?â, âIs the climate harsh?â, âAre people friendly or hostile?â And many more questionsâ¦
I had an open discussion with my wife and we decided that we should come.
Living in Russia as an expat is surely a unique experience. When we settled in Moscow, we started exploring, of course, discovering the Russian way of life in all its facets, and soon found our way extremely well. I could, possibly, find hundreds of reasons to say why I do not like Russia, but I do not do that because I actually like being here.
After three years, I cannot say that I understand everything about Russia. But what I am really sure of is that you have to be flexible, capable of adjusting to new realities. I know people who arrived in Russia and never adapted; I also know expatriates who have been living and working here for many years, in lots of cases pretty much willing to prolong their stay.
Do relationships you build here with your clients differ from those you built in Belgium?
Relationships in Russia are no less important than in Belgium, they do matter a lot.
ING has been in Russia for nearly 23 years and is fully dedicated to providing innovative financial services to Russian clients and to foreign-based clients operating in Russia. The objective is to make the needs of clients the focus of our business activities. We do strive to have open dialogues and serve our clients in a most transparent way. Of course our business depends on the market and the current geopolitical reality.
What kind of clients do you have here in Russia?
We have two kinds of companies among our clients: blue-chips and international companies. The good thing is that both of these company types are professionals, with an excellent understanding of banking. Of course, it takes time to develop a relationship, but when people see that you are competent, understand the business and can deliver on your promises, I think, from that moment on you gain respect.
So, people are really competent here?
Yes, and this is the other thing that makes Russia so interesting for me. I have found extremely competant staff here.
We are working in a segment of the market that operates according to international standards. Most of our clients are quoted not only on the Russian stock market, but also on the London stock exchange. Sure. Russians do not come to work at 8 oâclock in the morning like in Belgium, but when I leave the office at 7 oâclock they are still working. The only problem I occasionally observe in Russia is the necessity to encourage people to work together as a team. This is the only area where, I think, Russia has something to learn.
What does your wife think of it all here in Russia?
Our children are now grown-ups, so they did not come with us like they did when we were in Australia. My wife likes Russia a lot because she is culturally minded. She has got really into the history of this country and she is very involved with various International Womenâs Clubs. She has made a great effort to learn the language, unlike me, and actively uses her Russian. We also like living in the centre of Moscow, close to Patriarshiye Ponds. Yes, sometimes things break down, but in general everything is really good here, so she likes it.
There arenât that many Belgians here, are there?
No, and we do not have a great tendency to mix together easily.
I got involved with the Russian Belgian Business Club that organises various events with participation of recognized experts who share their expertise and sketch out for us the current political landscape in Russia and its relations with the West. I am sure this is a fantastic way to keep in touch and meet new people.
I also benefit because I work for a Dutch company, as I can easily join the Dutch business community. The Ambassador of the Netherlands in Russia plays a very significant role in uniting the Dutch people, chairing events dedicated to recent business experiences updates on the Russian market and other topics.
In general, one of the wonderful things about living here is that there is a large expat community which one can easily become part of. We have good friends who are Belgian, Dutch, Irish, German, Austrian and French. Going back to my wife, that is something else she appreciates â a big network of expats. If you are open, you can connect with people.
Do you have a favourite restaurant here?
Belgians are food-lovers; we do not like plain food. So, it is always interesting to find something unusual. Quite recently we discovered an excellent Nordic Cuisine restaurant âOrange 3â famous for its stylish and creative approach to cooking.
We have also fallen in love with the genuine home Georgian food here. One of the Georgian restaurants we like to go to is âElargyâ, located in one of the most picturesque parts of the Old Moscow â among the narrow streets of the Arbat, surrounded by architectural masterpieces and old-Moscow mansions. The Summer CafÃ© in âScandinaviaâ restaurant is also great.
Close to the bank here is one of my favourite restaurants âItalianetsâ remarkable for its authentic Italian cuisine. And, finally, there is another restaurant place we like called âAs Eat Isâ which is close to Patriarshiye Ponds.
Apart from food, I think one of the best-kept secrets here is the Moscow summer. The winter is not that bad either, as it is not consistently cold and freezing like people say, but has its ups and downs. As for the summer, it is amazing – the whole place is completely transformed!