A new way of working for a rapidly changing world

How Simplify@Scale revolutionizes work at Rabobank.

Online shopping. Video calls. Check your balance on your mobile. Digital communication through apps. By now you expect flawless digital service. Digital convenience comes first. Rabobank accepts this challenge. Not only by introducing new online services and products, but also by rolling out the agile way of working widely within the bank. That is Simplify@Scale at Rabobank.

This happens under the programme name Simplify@Scale and contains a working method that is embraced and sponsored by the management. A way of working where personal responsibility and transparency are paramount. A way of working that enables the bank to respond more quickly to the rapidly changing outside world. We talk to Kiki van den Berg and Michiel Kwaaitaal why Rabobank chose this way of working and how it spreads throughout the organisation.

Both know what it’s like to initiate change in organizations. Kiki is co-responsible for the Simplify@Scale programme at Rabobank, after having carried out similar change processes at other major organisations. Michiel started at another bank, made a trip to the publishing world and went back to financial services. In his own words: “These organizations are at the forefront in terms of having to and wanting to digitize in order to help customers”.

What is Simplify@Scale?

Kiki: “Rabobank provides a lot of services, we do more than just payments. In all those parts of the service you see new players with whom we compete. This means that as a bank we have to act faster to existing and new customer demands. We do this with more autonomous teams that are very agile and can respond quickly to that demand”. Michiel: “We started in 2016 to bring our software developers closer to the IT operation, creating the DevOps teams. Then we merged the business teams, from different disciplines, with these IT teams”.

Previously, the experts of a particular product or service were disconnected from the developers, but now they have merged. In the new way of working we work in tribes, areas and squads.A tribe is a group of areas that focuses on the same objectives and customer needs. An area is a group of squads with a strongly related objective. A squad is an autonomous cross-functional team with a clear business goal. Each area has about 8 – 10 squads working together on a bigger goal. We have now started this in the retail part of the bank. This is where we make products and provide services for our private customers. This includes payments, mortgages, insurance, loans, savings. But also in areas where you as a consumer have to deal with. You relocate, you start a business, or you settle down together.

Michiel: “We put squads together in the area where they can help and inspire each other. Product experts now work closely with our software developers, as well as marketers, UX designers and data analysts. This is what makes the Simplify@Scale movement.”

In May 2019, Rabobank launched Simplify@Scale on a large scale, with some 2,000 employees in various squads and areas. By March 1, 2020, the entire retail section has switched over to this way of working.

You always have to look at what you ultimately want to achieve as an organisation.
Kiki van den Berg - Head of Transformation Office

Simplify@Scale: Company culture

Michiel explains why Rabobank chooses its own way of working: “Whether you look at the Spotify model from 2012 or the Scaled Agile Framework, it never works to just copy anything. Both models have good elements you can adopt. We are more complex than, for example, Spotify because we have many more people and teams and our customer base is much broader. Within the Payments Tribe there are 35 squads at work. That’s just to serve the customer. For the backend piece another 40 squads have been brought together in one Tribe Account & Payment Factory (APF). The Tribe Payments and APF account for some 750 colleagues in just one area of the bank…”

Kiki: “The culture of Spotify is different from ours or any other bank. Spotify started as a startup and has one clear product which is the same for a large user group. Rabobank is more complex because we have far more people and teams and our customers have their own wishes and products. In addition, company culture is very important in the choice you make to organize a certain way of working. You always have to look at what you ultimately want to achieve as an organization.”

Michiel continues: “We give squads as much autonomy and responsibility as possible to set the right priorities in a customer-focused and data-oriented way. That is what you see in the Spotify model. From the SAFe model you learn to come up with a structure to go through larger processes with each other in a complex organisation”.


Kiki: “Both employees and management need different skills. A traditional manager wants to be in comand and control mode. With Simplify@Scale it’s up to the squads and areas to make the right decisions. The management is there to give the right inspiration, instead of telling how something should be done, they provide a long term direction.

Michiel: “We work with our squad to reduce friction for the client. For instance, we made it easier for the customer to activate a new credit card. You can now activate it in the app, previously you needed the Rabo Scanner. Or more recently where, in the first week of the corona crisis, we raised the contactless limit from 50 to 100 euros per day and from 25 to 50 euros per transaction in order to prevent the spread of virus through a pin device. These are smart improvements that make customers happier. And it makes me very excited.”

We work with our squad to reduce friction for the client.
Michiel Kwaaitaal - Tribe Lead Payments

Job satisfaction

Kiki: I believe that Simplify@Scale increases the job satisfaction of our colleagues. Because we put more responsibility on the teams and because decision-making is more transparent. And this decision-making process is also faster.

You have to start in the right place. We started with an experiment within the Digital HubWithin the Digital Hub you work together with colleagues in different fields of expertise on 100% digital convenience for the customer. what does and doesn’t work within Rabobank and how to implement it on a larger scale. Based on the results, the management then decided to scale it up. They saw the success and they believe in this way of working together.

Kiki: “It now seems as if Simplify@Scale is only meant for the teams working on products and services for our customers, but nothing could be further from the truth. We help all our colleagues to see where this way of working has added value, both for the organisation and for the customer. We are a cooperative, after all, that is in our organisation’s DNA. Such a transformation takes time, but we believe in it.