1998: CFO, ING Group
It’s almost a year since Cees Maas retired as finance chief of ING, a Dutch financial-services firm. Does he miss much about being a CFO? “No,” laughs the 60-year-old immediately. “No, no, no, no!”
That’s not to suggest that Maas didn’t enjoy his time running group finance at ING, he insists. When he discussed his role in preparing not only ING, but also the European Union for the impending launch of the euro with CFO Europe ten years ago, he’d already achieved more in his calling than the average finance exec.
Maas came to ING in 1992 after a six-year stint as Holland’s treasurer-general, a time he remembers “with great pleasure.” He chaired the committee that drafted and negotiated the Maastricht Treaty in 1991, paving the way for the introduction of the euro. Then, while at ING, he chaired a committee advising EU officials on the euro’s introduction. This has been Maas’s legacy. Almost a decade after the currency’s arrival, he admits he’s biased when it comes to discussing its impact, but he does believe it has generally brought Europe “great prosperity in terms of low inflation rates, low interest rates and a very great capacity to absorb shocks.” That low inflation is now being challenged for the first time, he adds, but times would arguably be harder if the euro zone countries still had their individual currencies.
As “one of the architects” that laid the foundations for the euro, then, Maas’s 11 years as a CFO are just a small part of his career. But it’s still a chapter of his life that he seemed to take to well. At Maas’s last AGM with ING in July 2007, supervisory board chairman Cor Herkströter described him as “an inspiring leader and a driving force behind the strong performance of ING.” Fittingly on the day he made his departure plans public in February last year, the company also announced a forecast-beating €2.1 billion profit.
Maas’s CFO tenure marked a couple of “firsts” for the financial institution. He was the first CFO appointed to its board and its first chief risk officer, a role he held throughout his time at ING. Since his departure, the two roles have been separated. The official ING line is that this split is due to “the increasing complexity and importance of both the finance and risk management roles within ING.”
Maas agrees with the logic, and says that the increased complexity amid growing regulatory demands is even more prevalent at ING than other companies, and means that anyone taking on the dual role today would need to be adept at accounting and risk management in both banking and insurance. So how did Maas manage it for so long? “I grew into it,” he says modestly. “When I started it was less complex.”
Less complex, but no less risky. During Maas’s time as CFO, he helped steer ING through market malaises ranging from the Asian crisis to Russia’s banking troubles to the bursting of the dotcom bubble. Hedging the group’s stock portfolio was a challenge during these periods, he admits, but there were some relatively enjoyable tests too — handling investor relations successfully, which is “easy when things are going well,” he says, and becomes a lot more rewarding in tougher times.