Bas van Eenige (NWB Bank): 'As an organization, we have become better at change ourselves.'

Turner assisted NWB in becoming better at change.

NWB Bank – Bas van Eenige, Head of Change & Information Management of NWB Bank in conversation with Onno Zwaagstra, Senior Financial Services Advisor at Turner on the strategic assignment.

The Dutch Water Authority Bank (NWB Bank) approached Turner with a specific request: help us become better at change so that we can handle it ourselves in the future. Onno Zwaagstra, along with Martijn Suiker, Turner’s Financial Services Advisor, drafted the plan. They assisted client Bas van Eenige of NWB Bank in its implementation. Now, a year later, there is a department managing the bank’s change portfolio that everyone at NWB Bank is enthusiastic about. The breakthrough in execution came with the choice of a simple and clearly formulated plan: ‘Setting policies without people understanding the necessity is not sustainable.’

1. What was the issue for which Turner was engaged? And what made it complicated?

The collaboration between the Dutch Water Authority Bank (NWB Bank) and Turner goes back several years, says Bas van Eenige. Turner was previously engaged in translating our strategy into execution. The current case dates back to 2020, focusing on a change program aimed at NWB Bank’s ambition to be the sustainable, efficient, and socially engaged bank for the public sector in the Netherlands. The goal is to have an energy-positive loan portfolio by 2035, moving towards climate neutrality by 2050. NWB Bank, established in 1954 after the flood disaster of the previous year, initially served water boards to obtain loans at a relatively low rate from the international capital market. Over time, other governments and semi-public institutions gained access to the bank. Despite having only 140 employees, NWB Bank ranks fifth in terms of total assets among Dutch banks. ‘Our transactions are generally substantial, and the products not too complex, allowing us to manage well with a compact organization,’ says Van Eenige. With this structure, NWB Bank faces various challenges. Not only does the bank have to comply with the same European rules as major banks, but it also aims to have an energy-positive balance by 2035. ‘Our main shareholders, the water boards, are particularly affected by climate change. Therefore, it makes sense for us to take the lead in sustainability and help our clients become more sustainable.’ To fulfill all ambitions, NWB Bank formulated a change agenda. ‘These are the type of changes that you cannot complete within one or two years,’ says Van Eenige. ‘That’s why we also want to get better at change as an organization. We need to achieve that ourselves. That was our specific assignment to Turner.’

'How do you translate something that is quite complicated into a process that you can explain simply? That was the challenge.'

2. What led to the breakthrough? In terms of content, change management, and/or project management?

The most effective way to teach NWB Bank to implement changes on its own was to establish a special department, says Onno Zwaagstra. In the last four months of 2022, he and Martijn Suiker wrote an advisory that was rolled out at NWB Bank in the first four months of 2023. ‘If you want to take responsibility for managing the necessary changes, for all initiatives related to it, you will encounter various questions,’ says Zwaagstra. ‘How do you control the organization? How do you assemble a portfolio? What is needed for that? Who is involved? What knowledge do you need for this?’ Change management is a skill that can be learned; that has always been the starting point. However, the breakthrough was in making the ideas underlying the plan accessible, says Van Eenige, who, as Head of Change & Information Management, leads the new department. ‘How do you translate something that is quite complicated into a process that you can explain simply? That was the challenge. If it’s too difficult, they won’t do it. But if they understand the idea, they will execute it, while still adhering to certain guidelines. The key is to change effectively. If you set policies without people understanding the necessity, without them seeing the benefit, it is not sustainable. Therefore, we paid a lot of attention to guiding and communicating the new way of working.’

3. How was the execution achieved?

The focal point of the plan’s execution was in the first four months of 2023, during which NWB Bank established and rolled out the department, governance, and processes. This was followed by a period of continuous learning and improvement in close collaboration with Onno Zwaagstra and Turner Financial Services Advisor Esther Veldhuizen. ‘The team is not yet at full strength, and fortunately, Turner has been able to assist in this,’ says Van Eenige. ‘Creating a plan is theory; you have to wait and see how it works in practice. You are constantly fine-tuning. After three or four projects, you notice that it needs to be slightly different than you initially thought.’ Van Eenige is pleased with the close, hands-on collaboration with Turner. ‘We find that this way of working is appreciated. People from our organization easily approach us with questions. Think along with us is the request we frequently receive. The Change & Information Management team is not seen internally at NWB Bank as an additional bureaucratic layer but as colleagues with expertise who can help.’ A good example of how execution was achieved is the introduction of quarterly planning, says Van Eenige. ‘Various departments are involved in quarterly planning, making the change extra complex. Every quarter, we organize a day to discuss all ongoing initiatives. We coordinate, set priorities, discuss progress, and consider the impact our decisions have on the work of all involved. And because everyone is present, everyone understands the necessity. It’s a way to exercise control. Thus, every three months, we develop a widely accepted plan, and everyone knows what to expect. Of course, things may change in those three months, but in principle, such a quarterly event provides stability and ownership.’

'Portfolio management has improved, resulting in more controlled execution of changes and achieving results sooner.'

4. Are there benefits for all stakeholders? For customers, shareholders, employees, management, and society?

In the case of NWB Bank, the benefits are mainly internal, says Van Eenige. ‘Control and stability,’ he says. ‘The shareholders indirectly benefit from that. But the most important thing is that we have better control over our changes. And that brings peace to our organization, allowing us to respond better to the changes coming our way. This is important because we have relatively few people.’ Zwaagstra adds something to that: portfolio management. ‘Always choosing the right initiatives and executing those initiatives in the right way. When dealing with many changes, it is often challenging to choose. That process has improved, resulting in more controlled execution of changes and achieving results sooner.’

5. What was the most significant dilemma, and how did you deal with it?

Van Eenige and Zwaagstra are unanimous about the most significant dilemma they encountered. The advice originally had a second part: further professionalizing agile working. ‘At some point, we consciously chose to slow this down and first help improve the quality of ongoing initiatives,’ says Van Eenige. ‘The first part was quickly and successfully implemented. That went really well. But then we reached the point where we had to decide on the second part. At that moment, we thought: let’s first ensure that the first part is well-established. Further professionalizing agile working demands a lot from an organization. So, we chose to take small steps first.’ Zwaagstra: ‘We are taking a breather and will definitely continue with this at a later stage.’

Onno Zwaagstra, Senior Financial Services Advisor at Turner Strategy = Execution, in conversation with Bas van Eenige, Head of Change & Information Management of the Dutch Water Authority Bank.

Bas van Eenige

Head of Change & Information Management of the Dutch Water Authority Bank.

Onno Zwaagstra

Senior Financial Services Advisor at Turner Strategy = Execution

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