If there were any doubt Peter Aceto stands out from other Canadian banking executives, a recent speech to a Bay Street audience cleared that up quickly. In that speech, Aceto, chief executive of ING Direct Canada used the term "frigging," and it's probably safe to say few other bank CEOs would do the same.
But that's the point, says Aceto, the 45-year-old boss of the country's largest direct bank with nearly $40 billion in balance sheet assets including products such as savings accounts, mortgages, GICs and TFSAs.
ING is expected by mid-May to be renamed Tangerine following Scotiabank's acquisition of it from Dutch insurance giant ING Group for $3.1 billion in 2012.
Because ING Direct is different, inside and out, part of that means Aceto must emulate that too. For example, he gives the public unprecedented access to him, particularly through social media, a mark that once won him the moniker of "the tweeting CEO."
It's a good nickname. Aceto's half-hour slot at the Empire Club of Canada podium yielded nine tweets; each highlighting the importance of change and openness in leadership qualities of the future including the first:
"People have a tendency to fear the unknown. But, there are some who understand that change creates opportunities. #TransformationalChange."
Why are you so front and centre when it comes to your brand?
We can't be one way on the inside and pretend to be something else on the outside. They need to completely line up. That means I have to be a different kind of leader.
Typically in big companies, particularly in financial services, there's a real separation between management and leadership and the employees and the customers. You know the stereotype about big offices. There's no offices here; I don't have an assigned parking spot. If I get in late in the morning, I have to drive around the frigging lot like everyone else. I have to walk. To give consumers access to the leader of the business and for leaders to hear complaints and address them, whether by e-mail or social media, I think that's different and distinctive. If you continue to do it over time people begin to trust that what you say and do is the same thing.
What's the risk people see this as merely self-promotion?
People probably do see it that way. Very seldom -- if ever -- has anyone had the guts to mention it to me. I love being visible and open and different. I've always been bothered by the traditional CEO stereotype. It's always bothered me. I really want to break that down. But I also know that at any given time that the financial industry in Canada can say I'm sick of this guy, he's full of crap, he doesn't act like a banker. My shareholders can say I can't take it anymore. You should stop it. I understand that is possible. But they don't want us to change our behaviour.
You have more than 14,000 followers. Why do you like tweeting?
I love it. I enjoy sharing. Five years ago, I saw it as an opportunity to further transparency about the company. I saw it as a competitive advantage where our transparency and nimbleness of our business; we could react really quickly to further distinguish ourselves.
Should all CEOs tweet?
No. When I think of social media there is a readiness that your business needs to have. So if you're interested in customer feedback then you must also be interested in doing something about it, and have the ability to do something about it because just listening to what people have to say and taking no action is not helpful.
If you're not comfortable sharing, if you're not comfortable having those dialogues, if you're not willing to have some level of authenticity, then you absolutely shouldn't be doing it. Because people will see through it, they'll call you out, it could damage your brand.
In your speech you mentioned anticipated big changes in mobile banking. What's on your radar?
We are looking at a variety of interesting things. One is voice banking or using our mobile app so that you can do everything you want by speaking to it. Biometrics is also something we think is interesting. I love this wearable technology and how it will be adopted by people.
How does wearable technology fit in?
I think that gives someone like us an incredible opportunity to be with our customers when they're making important decisions like when they want to spend money and help remind them about their savings goals, their retirement aspirations, the fact they're trying to save for a down payment on a home.
Speaking of change, when will you officially become Tangerine?
We're not allowed to use ING anymore as of the second week of May so it's going to be before that.
We went through all types of names. Names that are based in the Greek language, names that don't exist, names of things that are other things. We chose names in a variety of different categories and we tested them with people who are non-customers, but also with customers of ours. We wanted to keep all of the attributes that people believe of ING Direct in the new name so there was a logical tie with the name, but also the things that go with the name like the icon, the colour. We also wanted it to be aspirational, and something that would be exciting and something to live up to in the future.
Should customers be worried about changes to your services?
There's a camp of people who are worried about the change in terms of customers and Canadians so we don't want to change very much at all. We have to change the name. Where you saw ING Direct, you're now going to see Tangerine. We have made some other changes to our web site and mobile app all in the name of customer simplicity. But in terms of big changes and modifications the answer is no.
Back to you, what or who do you follow most on Twitter?
The category of people I follow most are leaders. I love the subject of leadership. @shawmu,
@leadershipfreak, @bluntleader. They share thoughts and coaching on leadership and business. Very insightful.
You've also done the Tough Mudder (obstacle race) twice, what else do you do in your spare time?
It's a struggle to fit it in, but it's really important to me. I run two or three times a week in the morning. I go to the gym. Lifting heavy things is not my favourite thing to do. I play pickup hockey game with ING Direct employees once a week. I coach my son's hockey team, I watch my daughter play volleyball, basketball. I have another son who also plays hockey. It's busy trying to be a good dad and leader for the business.
*Interview has been edited and condensed