We make impact on a global scale

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Ronald van der Vorst
Head of Innovation
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Roland van der Vorst has been Head of Innovation at Rabobank since April 2019, in addition to his work as a professor at Delft University of Technology. His most important task? "Banks have to change, other revenue models have to emerge". We have discussed with him these new revenue models and the role of innovation within Rabobank.

Measuring CO2 in real time

Carbon Credits is one of the projects in Roland’s team that is now being put into practice. “Among other things, it has to do with planting more trees, to get CO2 out of the air. In this way we contribute to reducing the impact on the earth. This principle is called agroforestry: how can you make farmland better for both crops and the soil by planting trees? We are conducting pilots to see if we can help small farmers around the world to plant trees on their farmland.”

“Planting trees to bring down your carbon footprint is nothing new, it’s already happening on a large scale worldwide. The innovative aspect of our Carbon Credits program is that we are investigating the possibility of measuring the CO2 storage capacity of planted trees in real time. We then turn this into tradable credits. Together with our market specialists, we investigate how you can create a sustainable marketplace from which both the farmer and bank can profit. This is one of the projects within a larger initiative, the Carbon Bank, by which we are helping to make the world more CO2-neutral.”

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Fantastic place to work

“I work with a core team of thirteen colleagues, but there are almost sixty people working within the bank on this type of innovation projects. As a Dutch bank, we have the power to make an impact with our projects. For me, that is one of the reasons to work at the bank.”

“I had never worked for such a large organization before. I’m curious by nature so I enjoy learning new things and experiencing new contexts. I also find the banking world interesting because there is a high degree of urgency to change. The question is no longer whether banks have to change, and they can’t wait too long to do so.”

” There is an urgency to change our revenue models. Interest revenue is decreasing, while costs are increasing. As a bank, we have to look at the value we can offer in society in a different way. It is more than just trading money. That’s where I look for innovation and change.”

“Rabobank’s mission appeals to me: as a cooperative bank, to help the world move forward together in a sustainable way. I am mainly involved in the Food & Agri domain. The combination of cooperation, sustainability and the good conversations I have here, makes it a fantastic place for me to work.”

"Rabobank's mission appeals to me: as a cooperative bank we help the world move forward in a sustainable way." 
Roland van der Vorst

Robust technology

“I believe in the combination of robustness and sensitivity. You have start-ups and fintech companies with a fast adaptability. They possess the sensitivity and agility needed in this technology-driven society. In addition, robustness is just as necessary. Successful tech companies know how to combine the two very well. Netflix is a good example. They are extremely sensitive in how they approach you, they know your preferences and how to appeal to you. But it’s also a very robust, centralized company. I find the combination of the two interesting. Netflix can be so sensitive and quickly innovate because they have centralized many of their processes and data streams. They capture a lot of our data centrally, what we look at, for how long, at what times and process that knowledge in order to learn from it and grow. You can imagine that society is wondering whether these large tech companies are not therefore becoming too big, too robust. For me, the trick is to use the good aspects of large, robust companies in order to be able to innovate better.”

As head of Innovation, it is important for Roland to combine these two characteristics as well as possible within a bank: “Banks are robust. We are big – bureaucratic perhaps – and that is often seen as a disadvantage. However, I find it a challenge to turn that into an advantage. For example, it’s an advantage that because of our size, we know many companies in the world that can help us in our innovation processes. In addition, people trust banks. We are a well-known name worldwide for many companies in the food and agricultural industry. People don’t just go along with everyone when it comes to sharing data in order to hedge risks, for example. It helps that you then have a big name like Rabobank behind you.”

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Connecting people

To be able to innovate within a bank requires more than digital specialists, according to van der Vorst. All departments within the bank collaborate on various projects in the Netherlands and abroad. “We need different types of people,” says van der Vorst, “people who can connect to others are crucial in innovation. Specialists in a discipline who at the same time want to connect with others outside their field of expertise.”

Data Intelligence specialists make the difference at the bank. “I can’t hire enough of them,” says Roland, “They’re highly sought-after people in all types of organizations, but with us you can make a real impact, on a global scale.”

“I’ve seen a lot in the world and been with a lot of creative companies. Many smart and fun people work at Rabobank who really want to make a difference in the world. This is a great company.”

About Roland van der Vorst

Roland van der Vorst has been Head of Innovation at Rabobank since April 2019. He is also Professor Strategic Design for Brand Development at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology. He started his career in the world of advertising and communication as a strategist at FHV/BBDO, and continued his career as chairman of BBDO Nederland and founder of THEY. From 2015 to 2019 he was director of FreedomLab, a think tank for future scenarios. Roland writes columns, a.o. for Het Financiële Dagblad.