Speech Michael Anseeuw Febelfin Connect 2024

Blijf up to date met de laatste maatregelen vanuit de financiële sector

29 maart 2024

This speech was given by Michael Anseeuw, the Chairman of Febelfin, at Febelfin Connect 2024, Febelfins annual networking event.

Good evening, everyone!

I hope you've all been having an interesting evening so far.

I would like to start by thanking a few people

1.    First, my heartfelt thanks to Johan (Thijs) and Dirk (Wouters) for steering the Febelfin ship as chair and vice-chair these past years.

Johan and Dirk, your leadership has been nothing short of remarkable. From all of us, thank you for all the work done.

2.    Secondly, I want to thank the team at Febelfin. Time and again, they manage to reach agreements in a context that isn’t always the easiest. On the outside, they are in the frontline of all the critics on banks, and on the inside, they have to manage demanding CEO’s (and their ego’s). I leave it up to you to decide what is the tougher challenge.

3.    And of course, my final thank you goes to everyone here today, especially our speakers (Vincent Van Peteghem and Jean-Paul Servais) and panelists (Dr. Sarah Anrijs, Kristel Verbeke, Lorraine de Fierlant and Wim Mijs).  If I am to believe some of the (political) statements from the past year, than some must feel they are in the lion's den. I can assure you: we will not bite.


Setting the scene – three perspectives


After such a rich exchange, the question always is, what more to add?

Let me start by looking at the world in which we live and operate:

1.    Our economy is undergoing a profound transformation. We are realizing that the twin transition is a twin revolution. AI is reshaping the way we work, and the urgency to embrace sustainability has never been clearer. By the way: we notice that families and businesses are choosing sustainable options more than ever.

2.    This fundamental economic shift is happening against a backdrop of geopolitical tension that is anything but smooth - and it doesn't look like that will change anytime soon. We are moving towards new balances. Yet, what these balances will look like remains unclear and this will impact every one of us.

3.    Politically, we're facing rough waters too. The rise of polarization and populism oversimplifies, often overlooking facts and bending the truth – and this includes discussions about the economy and the financial sector. The (political) debate in our country is no exception.

In the midst of these turbulent times, our mission as Belgian banks is crystal clear:  we must navigate the ship safely and reliably for everyone on board. A mission we can only accomplish by returning to the very heart of banking.  I'm not talking about turning back the clock, but rather, about reconnecting with our fundamental purpose, with the core of what we do. This not only includes directly financing economic growth but also indirectly advancing societal progress.

Tonight, I want to share with you three dimensions of accessibility that will help us to drive this positive change: (1) our promise of closeness, (2) the richness of our diversity, and (3) the need for constructive partnerships.


Being close


First, closeness – or being close.

What we've discussed tonight, is all about being as close to our clients as we can be.

And for me this all starts with truly understanding how people, how our clients, feel in today’s fast-changing world.

Many are on a quest for identity, driven by shifting grounds and fading certainties. An increasing number of people feel left behind, misunderstood, and some even feel useless. This compels us, also as banks, to guide and empower them, and, at times, take them by the hand.

When I talk about being close, I mean: seeing what our clients are fundamentally longing for, recognizing their feelings and their goals, and supporting them to the fullest with our expertise as financial partners for their families and businesses. In everything we do, we have to stay close, and we can’t do that without acknowledging this fundamental quest for recognition and identity.


1.    This begins with listening. Genuinely hearing our client’s needs, and supporting them through challenges with understanding and support. Being close means supporting entrepreneurs, just as we supported countless families and businesses through the COVID and energy crisis, ensuring no one was left behind.

2.    Being close, secondly, involves “Know Your Client.” And I am talking not about checking boxes during KYC verification and compliance, but about truly understanding each client’s needs. What are their dreams? What do they aspire? What do they want to accomplish? Whether is personal, familial, or business-related. Closeness is about advising people.

3.    Being close also means talking clear and straight. No jargon. No hidden fees. No difficult words.

It's about championing digital inclusion, going the extra mile using technology to make banking easier, but never without losing the human touch.

People shouldn't just be familiar with our apps; they should be able to use them safely and be resilient when confronted with phishing or other forms of fraud.

4.    And fourth, being close, is empowering our clients. Whatever their background or abilities.

It’s ensuring people feel confident and in control of their finances.

It is about fostering real, meaningful connections with our clients. Not just transactional, but relational and, at best, transformational.  Because when we truly play our role, we make dreams come true. And in doing so, we help changing lives for the better.


At Febelfin we are committed to make closeness tangible. Let me give you four ways of how we’re fulfilling that commitment.

1.    Last year, we’ve rolled out Digicoach — a new e-learning platform to coach the coaches to enhance digital skills.

2.    We also reached out across the board — to companies, governments, social organizations, and experts — and participate in digit all, a digital inclusion alliance.

3.    And to better inform people, we are launching the new website accessiblebanking.be today. It will be the ultimate resource for all information on accessible banking.

4.    And, last but not least, Febelfin has just agreed to proactively extend the universal banking service, ensuring we leave no one behind, including people who lack acess to our online services.




The second dimension I wanted to talk about is our rich diversity.

There is plenty of research showing that diverse organizations and companies stand the strongest. And that's just as true in our sector.

Look at the Belgian banking landscape today. We witness an incredible diversity among Belgian banks.

This diversity is our strength. It keeps us in sync with society, it makes us stronger.

Today, the Belgian landscape caters to every preference. There's really something for everyone.

You prefer to visit your local branch? Last year ended with 3,243 bank branches across Belgium, offering face-to-face banking services.

 Or maybe you’re all in on digital banking? Then you’re lucky. Belgian banking apps are top-notch. Our Belgian banks really lead the way, taking home top honours in the most prestigious digital rankings.

And for everyone looking to seek expert advice and have a good conversation with their banker, there’s banking by appointment. Whether it it’s a discussion on sutainable investments, financing a renovation, or starting a business, expert bankers are just an appointment away, physically or remotely.

The Belgian banking landscape offers it all. That’s the beauty of our diversity. There’s always a bank that fits your needs and circumstances perfectly. It doesn’t mean every bank offers all solutions. But within our landscape people will find their match.

This diversity fuels innovation. Stepping away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach allows us to offer to individual clients what they need. It brings us closer, enhancing accessibility with banking services that are tailored to every client’s expectations.

And I am convinced that AI, one of today's hot topics, will ensure we can approach people even more personally, more tailored with the right offerings for their situation.

So, we come full circle, and we return to the core of banking. On one condition: always holding onto the core promise of closeness and companionship.




The third dimension is that of partnership.

Our society craves for stability. Yet, trust in classic institutions is wavering. And let’s be candid, to the policymakers (and even journalists) in the room: we're all in the same boat. All classic institutions that form the foundations of our econmy and our democratic free society  are under increasing pressure.

So, the question we need to ask is: how do we reverse this trend? How do we break this downward spiral?

The recent Edelman Trust Barometer provided a valuable insight. Asked about trust in policy makers and companies, trust was low and declining. However, that changed when when people were asked about collaborative trust.

This is also a lesson for us, for our country. Especially in this election year.

We need a spirit of collaboration, of partnership to collectively address challenges. From building and renovating hundreds of thousands sustainable houses for Belgian families, helping our entrepreneurs and SMEs to grow sustainable to bridging the digital divide, fostering financial inclusivity and strengthening the Belgian financial sector. Only through collaboration, we will succeed.

That’s why we call for the creation of new partnerships. A partnership with all our stakeholders: from governments, regulators and schools to civil society, and of course, the citizens themselves.

Let’s work on common ground. Combine our expertise. And drive positive change together.

We, as Belgian banks, are ready to step up.

And because we are not just about words, Febelfin will be inviting all of you to an Inspiration Day this autumn. A day to join forces, brainstorm, and translate this new partnership into actionable intiatives that benefit our society and our economy.

As Henry Ford once said: “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success.”


Let’s build this success together!

Thank you.