Making optimal use of 500 buildings in an era of change

Karen Hilstra, Head of Real Estate

‘Bricks and mortar are static, but Rabobank’s extensive real estate portfolio is dynamic at all times. The many changes in the bank - digitalization, sustainability and new ways of working - are reflected in our commercial premises policy. Our challenge is how to strike the right balance.’

Many dimensions of commercial premises

‘As Head of Real Estate I’m responsible for our offices and data centers in the Netherlands. We have over 500 buildings in the portfolio. Some we own, some we rent. My work is extremely varied and always interesting. Real Estate supports Rabobank’s customer service provision and facilitates 21,000 people to do their work well every day. Local banks come to us for advice, for instance on premises policy. Together with a team of real estate brokers and process managers we help the banks to buy and sell, rent and lease or renovate their properties.’

Clear agreements

‘Rabo Real Estate makes sure that all the technical aspects are in order. For our datacenters the critical infrastructure must be hundred percent reliable otherwise we make headlines for the wrong reasons. But we’re also responsible for all office buildings and the campus in Utrecht. At a huge location like this there’s always something going on. Right now, we’re working on a new courtyard. And, together with the other Dutch banks, we subcontract the maintenance of our ATMs to Geldmaat. My department makes sure that all the agreements are clear relating to rental contracts and security at our premises.’

Smart space and recycling

‘Digitalization means that Rabobank is reducing its physical presence, as are other banks in the Netherlands. The result is that we are divesting more real estate and reducing newbuild projects. Although our challenges are not related to newbuild, they are still very interesting. My focus is to make optimal use of the existing premises in our portfolio. We provide working space to over 4,000 colleagues from central departments in local bank buildings. We also set up the working spaces in banks for the regional specialist teams and, when necessary, we relocate colleagues to nearby buildings. In other words, we make smart use of space, recycle and reuse office furniture, and use existing resources to the best possible effect.’

Forerunner in sustainability

‘Recycling and making sure we don’t waste any space all contributes to becoming more sustainable in a circular model. But we must also make the buildings themselves more sustainable. Not only to comply with legislation, but also because Rabobank has now set itself even tighter sustainability targets. The ambition is to have an energy label C for all our buildings by the end of 2020, three years earlier than the original target. And for all our properties to have energy label A in 2027. Which is easier said than done when you’re dealing with over 500 locations. I’m coordinating this mission on behalf of Rabobank Nederland, in collaboration with all local banks. Together we are setting the priorities and tackling the buildings with the longest working life first.’

Innovating by learning

‘Sustainability and the circular economy are trends which are evolving and transforming our sector. But lots of other factors impact us too. For instance, data is becoming ever more important. Connected and smart use of information reveals patterns that teach us a lot. What’s the best time to replace your lighting for instance? Or what are the peak times for visitors to your properties? Acceleration is another important theme. The way we work is changing: from separate offices to open workspaces, from working at home to teamwork in the office, and from parking facilities to cycle parks. Real Estate may be static, but you have to keep it agile.’

Change is the common theme

‘At Rabobank I really enjoy the space I’m given, and that includes switching jobs. Just look at my career path: in 2002 I started work at Rabobank as an HR consultant. Then I became manager of a call center and ran a group of project managers. I spent several years working as a financial advisory manager at a local bank and was responsible for an insurance section. And now I’m Head of Real Estate. The common theme in all of this is bringing about change, introducing improvements, and doing all that together. Inside the bank or with the client. Not changing for the sake of changing but standing back and asking: how can we do things smarter? This way of thinking and doing is unique to Rabobank, and I feel really at home in this culture.’

Open to ideas

‘Bringing about change by working together in an open atmosphere is something I encourage as much as I can. You must give space for everybody’s ideas. The best solutions are born from everyday working situations. Like my technical staff who think up smart ways of doing things. That’s how we decided to try switching off half the lights in the Croeselaan entrance hall in the summer. And guess what: nobody noticed. If you’re open to these kinds of ideas, willing to experiment and keep an open mind, you can get amazing results.’