What ING’s Departure Means to Customers

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We’ve written about ING Direct (Stock Symbol: ING) a myriad of times in the past few months, particularly in BankingMyWay’s “Deals of the Week” article on Wednesdays (like here and here).

The bank has a track record of good savings and checking account rate deals, a popular and slick Web site and a great reputation, placing high in banking industry customer satisfaction surveys.

Sounds like a pretty stable place to park your cash, right?

Not after a recent announcement from ING that it will leave the U.S. market in 2013 to focus on European markets.

According to a company statement, ING opted to make the move out of the U.S. banking market as part of a restructuring deal with the European Commission, where the multinational finance behemoth, called ING Groep NV, will split in two during the next four years. In announcing the move, ING said that it will be "predominantly focused on Europe with selective growth options elsewhere."

The company says that, as part of the restructuring deal, it will have to sell its American banking brand, ING Direct, and plans to do so by the end of 2013.

So what does that mean to the American banking industry, and what does it mean to ING Direct customers?

As usual, the economy has something to do with the ING decision. High-risk investments and toxic mortgages prevalent in the U.S. may have soured ING’s global parents on the American banking market.

As far as consumer impact, customers have little to worry about. Individual deposits of up to $250,000 are FDIC-insured, not that ING is failing.

What’s less clear is who will buy the bank, and if the change in ownership will result in higher rates, different fees and better deals for customers. That’s an open-ended question that won’t be answered until ING Direct is sold. But history suggests a rude shock may be in store for ING customers.

Chase’s takeover of Washington Mutual signals how a bank culture can change dramatically after a buyout (in that case, from a bank that built its reputation on customer service turning into a bank culture focused on fees).

That said, time is on the ING Direct customer’s side. The 2013 deadline is a while off, and the online banking landscape could change significantly in the interim (especially if the economy improves).

If you want to make the shift sooner rather than later, consider banks that own marketing and service models that look a lot like ING and its ubiquitous “Orange” banking brand. Ally Bank (Stock Quote: GMAC), Capital One Direct (Stock Quote: COF) and Discover Bank (Stock Quote: DFS) all seem to fit the bill there.

Again, you have three years or so, so there’s no rush. But you may as well know that, sooner or later, ING Direct will be changing hands, so act accordingly.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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