One does not realise how beautiful South Africa is until you’ve seen the rest of the world.
So says New York-based former Matie Nick Smit, now a managing director and head of financial institutions for ING Bank, the largest bank in the Benelux.
“The Cape is probably one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I often find myself missing its mountains and the beaches. Luckily, I have an apartment in the city, which I get to visit about once a year.
“I’m also still in contact with a lot of my old Matie friends. They now live all over the world—London, Seattle, Lisbon, and even Short Hills, New Jersey. Whenever we are together we talk about the best times in our lives—Jool, the Neelsie, sokkie, Klipdrif, Tassies and of course some politics!”
Nick has been in his current position at ING Bank since 2011. Before that, he served as chief of staff banking for over a decade.
“We are present in 42 countries across the globe. I’m tasked with looking after the relationship between the institution and the US, Canadian and Latin Americas banks, asset managers and insurance companies.”
He describes his period as chief of staff as one of the most interesting and scary times of his life so far.
“I started in this position in 2007, exactly the year the financial crisis started. It was therefore a very difficult time for the bank. We had to get state aid from the Dutch government, sell all our non-core activities, and lay off hundreds of workers.
“A period like that shows you who are true leaders in the world. It teaches you to appreciate what you have. It motivates you to focus and to persevere. Today ING is less than half the size that it use to be in terms of assets, but our profitability is double what it was before the crisis.”
Nick, who has previously made contributions to the SU Bursary Fund, often host events for Maties in New York as well.
“In the past I’ve tried to introduce the US Alumni to UNICEF to see if there would be any possibilities for co-operation there.”
Being able to work with the world’s largest banks and asset managers gives one some fantastic exposure, he explains.
“One of the most striking things is how integrated the world has become. What happens in Washington affects what happens in China and what happens in China affects nearly all countries. Decisions made in Boston by the largest US asset managers affect countries like Turkey and South Africa fundamentally.
“It would be very dangerous if everyone should start thinking of ‘me first’—America first, China first, the UK first, and so on. We are definitely at a turning point in terms of global thinking, and it will be very important which decision we make in the coming years. This is very much top of mind here in the business community in New York and will definitely affect South Africa going forward.”
Away from his demanding corporate career, he enjoys a life of culture with his husband, Francois, in and around New York.
“We love all the theatre, musicals and concerts that the city offers, and are probably in the theatre at least once a week.
“We really enjoy travelling as well, since the US has so much to offer. We were just in Santa Fe to see the outdoor opera festival there. We love hiking in the mountains and the Rockies are fantastic for that.
“My highlight of the year is the Sundance Film Festival in Park City near Salt Lake City. It is in January so you get to ski during the day and then go and see the movies in the evening!”
- By Steyn du Toit -