Ioana Regenbogen is the Director of the Legal Department at ING Romania. A graduate of the Faculty of Law at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and holding a Masters degree for executives in Business Administration from Asebuss & Kennesaw State University in 2010, she was admitted to the Bucharest Bar in 2001. Regenbogen first joined ING Bank in April 2005.
Please tell our readers a bit about your career leading up to your current role.
I.R.: In 2000, after graduating from Babes-Bolyai University Law School, I concentrated on studying for the admission exam at the National Institute for Magistrates with the aim of becoming a judge. Besides my interest in law, I thought that this profession’s standards of integrity, fairness, and appropriateness resonated best with my professional vocation and character. During the exam preparation period (one month after graduation), I was offered the opportunity to work in a Romanian private bank (formerly known as “Banca Dacia Felix”), as the legal counselor in charge of all of the bank’s civil proceedings involving foreign jurisdictions. I immediately accepted, more as a buffer against the stress of the magistrate admission exam’s failure. The range and diversity of legal problems and fields that I went into after I joined the legal team in Banca Dacia Felix was expanded to such an extent and was so challenging that I eventually decided to continue my work in the banking area. In 2001 I was admitted to the Bucharest Bar as a lawyer, and had the enormous opportunity to work as a trainee lawyer with one of most highly regarded Romanian lawyers, Adrian Vasiliu. Both during my training and after obtaining my full credentials as a lawyer, I continued to collaborate with Banca Dacia Felix, eventually becoming the Deputy Head of the Legal Department.
In 2005 I left for ING, where I was put in charge of managing the (at the time, very young) Retail Banking Legal Team, and then assumed the role of Director, Head of the Legal Department, ensuring legal support for all business lines of the bank (RB, MCB, CB, FM), plus for other entities within the ING group (ING Leasing, ING Com Fin, Amsterdam Broker, ING Services).
In parallel with my career advancement I have also pursued other learning opportunities, such as obtaining a Business Law Master’s and the ASEBUSS EMBA program.
You’ve now been with ING in one form or another for 10 years. What drew you to the banking sector originally, and what has kept you here for so long?
I.R.: Yes indeed, I just turned 10 with ING this year. Wonderful, challenging, hard-working ten years! As already mentioned, by pure chance I came to work for a bank. I very much liked the versatility of the bank legal counselor role, in the sense that we are exposed to many areas of law – from corporate, civil and banking law to IP, privacy, and labor law, and in some cases, unfortunately, even insolvency law. Besides that, the opportunity to get involved in very challenging growth-oriented and innovation-focused projects and initiatives drew me in. We are living and working in a period of digital revolution that is hastily spreading in all sectors, including banking, which shifts considerably the way of delivering financial services and products. Last but not least, the people (extraordinary professionals and team players) and the healthy organizational culture of ING played big parts.
You’ve seen quite a few changes in the industry, from both a business and regulatory perspective, over the years. Which would you identify, looking back, as the ones posing the biggest challenges from a regulatory standpoint?
I.R.: If we speak only for banks and financial institutions’ regulation and supervision, the framework of the Romanian financial sector was, in the last 10 years, in an ongoing process of implementing EU legislation, Basel II and Basel III provisions, etc. There is probably more to come as well at a local level from EBA’s regulatory activity. I would say that the Romanian banking legislation is, at present, very much harmonized with the applicable acquis communautaire.
On a separate note, but still very much linked to bank business, I must say that the consumer protection field has been one of the areas experiencing a severe transformation in the last, let’s say, 7-8 years. I think we still have to strive here for the right balance between the financial safety rights of consumers and the necessity of a sound business for banks.
Market consolidation and NPLs have been the two buzzwords in the industry in Romania. How have these impacted your work as an in-house counsel with ING?
I.R.: ING NPL’s ratio was situated at a low level as compared to the market average, given our prudential policies in credit risk, both in lending for individuals and for corporates. Where possible, we tried to amiably solve problems by offering feasible restructuring solutions to both our consumer clients and companies. Here our support was definitely needed, both in advising on restructuring solutions and in drafting the credit restructuring documentation, especially for big corporations. We also contributed in very complex cases, with cross-border implications, sometimes in close cooperation with external lawyers and other times not. In some of the few major insolvency proceedings on which we assisted, ING offered us the opportunity to work on winding-ups and to find reorganizing possibilities or even starting some M&A transactions. Unfortunately we also had to deal with complex enforcement procedures.
At the last moment you were not able to join us at the CEE Legal Matters GC Summit due to other commitments, but you were initially going to speak there about “KPIs and Competencies for the Legal Department.” Why did you find this topic particularly relevant for in-house counsel?
I.R.: The legal profession was always a highly-skilled and knowledge-based job. However, advances in technology and an increasingly competitive environment may call for some changes in some skills and abilities of lawyers. That is why I thought the topic would have been of certain interest.
Of course, I do not think that the future pertains to robot-lawyers or to automated lawyers, though I know that in the US and in the UK provision of online legal services is very successful already. Therefore we might be required in the future to switch to new ways of offering legal services, using more and more software and experimenting with new technologies in general and using more business and financial knowledge as well. In short, it’d entail becoming multi-disciplinary experts.
Otherwise, we need to look beyond our own area of expertise and to find win-win solutions with our business and risk functions. We need to strive more for efficiency and simplicity (we tend to be so much more complex and sophisticated, both in our language and in our analysis and judgment!) so as to be able to help business make informed decisions.
We sometimes are so preoccupied with identifying all possible risks associated with a project or a particular transaction that we forget that our purpose needs to be finding solutions together with business under acceptable risks. I can say my team “masters” this approach beautifully.
“Beautifully” is a brave word. I think the obvious question is, “How?” Specifically how did you get your team to get into that mindset?
I.R.: First, by personal example – both my managers’ and mine.
Second by constantly discussing the benefits (both on one-on-one, but also as teams), such as increased (internal) client satisfaction and therefore excellent cooperation between the Legal, Business, and Risk departments, increased productivity, accelerated results, etc.; or what’s in it for the respective colleague (as a personal development “investment”), not only the value added of his/her contribution to our employer.
All these, in one form or another, are translated into our shared or individual KPIs or into our development actions or are embedded in the skills and behaviours expected by ING as standards.
I have to say that our internal clients have their merits as well in our “modelling” during the time, as they are excellent professionals and challengers.
How close would you say the GC community is in Romania? Do you interact with colleagues from other banks in the country and exchange best practices?
I.R.: Pretty close. Yes, I interact with colleagues from other banks, both in the Romanian Associations of Banks and in the Council of Banking Employers in Romania, and I must say we have some very valuable legal professionals working in the banking field. My colleagues and I are members of various workgroups at these associations, but we also engage at a more diversified level (with NBR, ANPC, or Private Consumer Protection Associations’ representatives), and I honestly think that together we can promote cooperative relationships with various authorities and aspire to good business ethics and best practices. Moreover, we want to contribute to, and are involved in, the legislative process.
When you have to outsource legal work, how do you pick the external counsel you will work with on a specific project?
I.R.: We look at their professional proficiency, their reputation, good track record history, time and resources allocated for us. We have a panel of law firms, both at the global level and at the local level, that would be recommended as satisfying all these criteria. We look at price as well, of course.
On the lighter side, what is a *must see* place in Romania in your experience?
I.R.: The Danube Delta, which hosts hundreds of species of birds and dozens of freshwater fish species. It is the second largest delta in Europe, after the Volga Delta, and is the best preserved on our continent. In fact next week, together with another very big team in the bank, we in the Legal Department will have an off-site meeting there. I look forward to getting back there. I myself have been there already 5 times.
This Article was originally published in Issue 2.5. of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.
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