ING’s new agri boss eyes US, LatAm as it builds dedicated unit

Deborah Perkins, who joins from Rabobank in the newly created role, talks to Agri Investor about private debt, institutional sponsors and the Dutch bank’s international ambitions.

Dutch lenders have long made their names in the agricultural business. One of them, in particular, usually springs to mind when trying to single out the sector’s movers and shakers: Rabobank.

This week, however, compatriot ING sent a strong signal that it was not so content with this state of affairs. In an effort to build a fully-fledged division dedicated to the space, the bank has appointed Deborah Perkins, pictured left, in the newly created role of global head of food and agribusiness.

Perkins in fact joins from Rabobank, where she was most recently a managing director, head of the lender’s Dallas corporate banking office and chief of dairy for North America. She previously worked within Rabobank’s food and agribusiness research teams for nearly a decade.

Growing global

At ING, Perkins will be tasked with directing and developing the food and agribusiness “growth initiative”, in the bank’s words.

Asked for further details on where the seeds of expansion may lie, she told Agri Investor that ING’s most established team dedicated to the sector are located in North America, following a string of hires of “experienced bankers” in the second half of last year. But she hinted that the region would remain key to ING’s growth drive.

“Given the important role the US is expected to play in not only supplying their very large domestic market but also the growing export market, this will be an important focus for us.”

LatAm ranks just as high on Perkins’ priority list. The region, she said, “is a growth focus for ING”; on top of serving export-orientated companies, the bank will be looking at certain domestic players. In Europe, “the focus will be on growing market share,” she added.

ING also intends to build on its Asian presence, while developing new relationships. “We already cover some of the very large food and agri exporters in Asia, who we can do more with, but there will be a focus on supporting Australian companies that are investing to supply the growing Asian market,” Perkins noted.

Foes and friends

Asked whether the rise of private debt providers represents a threat to the bank’s expansion ambitions, she hinted that instances of collaboration could also help the bank secure more business.

“This can be an important component of a company’s capital structure and while they can be competitors they can also be an important partner when providing syndicated facilities for larger food and agri companies,” she said.

“There will be a focus on supporting Australian companies that are investing to supply the growing Asian market”
Deborah Perkins, ING

That may be all the truer as the lender seems to favor a broad approach to the food and agricultural sector that will see it provide finance “to the entire value chain”. That could perhaps lead to further hires in the near term. “The cyclicality and seasonality of both permanent crops and protein sectors means that there is added value in having sector specialists that understand the industry dynamics,” Perkins observed. ING declined to comment on team size and future appointments.

Perkins suggested institutional sponsors could become a growing part of the bank’s client base. “Historically they have not invested in primary production, but as we see more vertical integration in, say, the animal protein and dairy sectors, then it is not unreasonable to expect them to increase their investment in this space.”

Could ING’s interest extend to agtech? Perkins said that was under consideration. “It will be an area that we follow closely, with us financing companies that have monetizable value propositions.”