On the day ING’s Belgian arm burnished its innovation credentials with the launch of a fintech accelerator, an overzealous staffer across the border at the bank’s Dutch unit did their best to undermine the effort by mistakenly blocking a customer from buying bitcoins.
ING Belgium has teamed up with partners including Deloitte, Swift Innotribe and SmartFin Capital to launch the ING FinTech Village, which will offer start-ups coaching on how to test their proof of concept with both potential customers and banking partners.
The project's objective is help the start-ups build credibility and facilitate access to new sources of funding, including venture capitalists. The participating firms and final programme will be set out later this year.
In heralding the FinTech Village, ING Belgium's CEO Rik Venderberghe says that innovation is "one of the pillars of our company", while chief innovation officer David Dab says that the launch is "an important step in our open innovation strategy for the benefit of our customers".
However the strength of ING's fintech credentials took a knock after its Netherlands business was criticised on Twitter for blocking an account holder from purchasing bitcoins.
The ING customer had tried to buy bitcoins at Dutch site Bitonic.nl only to be told by the bank that "virtual currencies are outside our scope". An ING spokesperson cited a number of factors explaining the bank's stance, including the lack of central bank monitoring, high price volatility and the increased risk of fraud due to the anonymous nature of the currency.
Other social media users then weighed into the debate with one stating: "So ING will determine what we can and cannot buy," while another cited the anonymous nature of cash as an undermining factor for the bank's argument. Meanwhile users on a popular internet forum have been threatening to move their accounts from ING as a result of the blockade.
However, the bank has now backtracked, telling Finextra that it is not policy to block bitcoin purchases and that the individual who posted the original messages on Twitter had acted prematurely.
ING is not the first financial institution to be criticised for a prohibition on bitcoin purchases. Barlcays and Rabobank have both been called up for blocking online banking customers from buying the currency. And only last month German bank Sparkasse was reported to have blocked any incoming and outgoing bank transfers related to Satoshi Nakamoto's creation.