ING executive finds Asia-Europe connectivity is in his blood

Robert Scholten explains how on-the-ground finance teams for ING in Europe and history in Asia combined with tailor-made financing solutions give the firm an edge over competitors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 April, 2015, 2:35am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 April, 2015, 2:46am

Robert Scholten was appointed head of ING Real Estate Finance Asia Pacific in February and is based in Singapore. He started working with ING in 1990 and has more than 23 years of experience in Asia.

He has held senior positions as country head for ING Commercial Banking Indonesia and head of loan syndications Asia Pacific, before his most recent role as head of commercial banking Greater China and Mongolia, where he oversaw a period of strong growth and integrated the business to better connect with ING's European franchise.

Scholten holds an MBA from Rotterdam School of Management and a Master's degree in Law from the University of Utrecht, both in the Netherlands.

What are the general criteria for providing property financing to your clients?

At ING Bank we manage a book of approximately €25 billion (HK$210 billion) in real estate finance. There are no specific financing criteria because we look at our clients' needs and try to support them.

That said, we do tend to focus on core, quality assets across key markets that we operate in. And we value our long-term relationships with our clients so we look beyond individual transactions to the potential in growing with the clients mentioned above in the long term.

What does ING Real Estate Finance do that is different from banks, which also extend project loans or long-term loans to their clients?

While we offer a wide range of comprehensive loan, advisory, debt capital markets products and financial markets to our clients, I would say our network - both in Europe and in Asia - is our biggest differentiator.

With on-the-ground real estate finance teams across eight countries in Europe, not only do we have the expertise to identify the quality deals or assets which others might find it difficult to have full access to, we are also able to execute them smoothly by navigating the possible legal and regulatory framework in each local market.

At the same time, our commercial banking presence and long history in 14 markets across Asia also gives us insights into what Asian clients care for, and are concerned about, when they invest overseas.

Secondly, we are a relationship bank that grows with our clients. We pride ourselves on offering flexible, tailor-made real estate financing solutions that meet what they need at their different stages of development: for example, from offering a vanilla bank loan to a real estate fund start-up, to bringing them to the debt capital market as the fund matures and grows to a certain size.

Are there any minimum requirements in terms of loan amount?

We tend to target larger transactions with property value of €100 million or more.

For the past few years, foreign real estate funds have slowed their pace of investment on the mainland. Do you think Beijing's latest loosening of its austerity measures will revive the interest of foreign investors?

A number of our clients continue to expand in China, and again it depends asset by asset and location by location.

Logistics is still a growing sector, we see good demand from institutional investors.

What cities are these overseas investors targeting?

It is fair to say, for non-logistics investment, first- and second-tier cities are still investors' preference but logistics is a different game plan as it is a different asset class.

What are your job responsibilities?

As head of real estate finance for Asia Pacific, my mandate is to market and grow the real estate finance business and platform in the region. In the past few years, volume in foreign real estate investments into Europe has been ramping up, and this trend is likely to continue in the foreseeable future.

As a European bank with an extensive network and strong real estate presence in Europe, together with our experience and understanding of what Asian clients need, we are well positioned to help Asian clients, ranging from Asian corporates, non-bank financial institutions to family offices to access quality real estate investment opportunities in Europe.

When you retire, where do you plan to settle down?

I have no intention of retiring any time soon and there really isn't a particular country that comes to my mind at the moment. So I will probably only be able to answer this question when the day comes.

What I can say is that while my home town is Amsterdam, I have spent more than 20 years in Asia and I am increasingly seeing Asia as my home. This Asia-Europe connectivity is part of my blood and my roots which I am sure will follow me into the future.