Petia Dimitrova: Banking digitalization is our mission

We are moving at the pace of our customers but we are also striving to be one step ahead of them

Petia Dimitrova: Banking digitalization is our mission

Снимка: Postbank

1772 ~ 8 мин. четене
Автор: Tatyana Yavasheva

Petia Dimitrova is the Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the Management Board of Postbank. She is a member of the Management Boards of the Association of Banks in Bulgaria, the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria (CEIBG), BORICA AD, Atanas Burov Foundation, Endeavour Bulgaria Association and the International Banking Institute. She is also member of the University Council of the American University in Bulgaria, Young Global Leaders Forum, part of the World Economic Forum, as well as the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), and others. She has won over 20 prestigious international and Bulgarian awards, the latest of which were the Atanas Burov Foundation Award for banking and financial management for 2017, Banker of the Year for 2015 and 2017 awarded by Banker Weekly, and Mrs. Economy for 2015 awarded by Ikonomika Magazine and CEIBG.

Mrs. Dimitrova, what question have you been asking yourself as a banker lately?

The question, which I am concerned with, is not just one. But, perhaps, the most important questions at the moment are – would the economic and lending growth continue this year with the same pace as in the previous one. I also ask myself to what extent would the new regulations really change our business and how much would they increase our costs. Or how the technologies would change the environment and what investments should we plan to make for innovations. Naturally, the answer to the last question is clear: growing.

The banks' stress tests are long over, but what "stress test" are you currently undergoing?

The current challenges are linked with the topics which I mentioned. Apart from them, our focus is also on the new competitors on the market, as well as the growing expectations of the modern consumers for banking services. An increasing challenge in the sector in recent years has been finding and keeping qualified people. The banks can also sense the "overheating" of the labour market. Naturally, this has an impact on our business. Yet in the same time, it motivates us to continue developing ourselves and also to become more competitive on the specific market – that of "talents."

The innovations are a favourite topic of yours. What role do FinTech companies have in the change? Do you think there is any danger for the banks to lose their leading position on the market?

Innovations should be a favourite topic for everyone because they are the present and the future. And yes, the FiTech companies can be defined as more flexible than us, but they would not push us out of the market that easily. We often comment that the banking sector has many regulations, but they make sense and have their benefits. The fact that banks are highly regulated gives our customers immense security when it comes to deposits, transactions, payments or financing.

Perhaps, the new payment directive PSD2, which opens new opportunities for the FinTech companies, poses the greatest challenge at the moment. It allows third parties to offer services related to the customers' bank accounts. In essence, it means that they would position themselves between the customer and the bank. On the other hand, this shifts the competition to the quality of the product and service provided. I would say that the FinTech companies in Bulgaria are "healthy competition" and sometimes even partners. They have innovative practices and if we develop them together, this would only benefit the customers. By partnering with them and borrowing their good practices, a bank like ours, which is committed to the consumer experience and the innovative banking models, will be in a good position to provide a wide range of personalized financial services. Thus, we can respond better to the changing trends in consumer demand.

The consumer attitudes are changing faster than ever. What do they expect now from you as a bank?

The expectations are not only different but also higher. The households and the business are willing to test and even actively seek new products. The banks need to be more flexible. Of course, that does not mean that the standard products would soon become useless and obsolete. However, today the consumers expect a secure and faster "digital experience" from their bank. They seek user-friendly solutions that would smoothly fit their daily lives. Shopping should be a click away, without any extra steps. The "digital" consumer is intelligent and seeks fast solutions. People pay with cards and smartphones and rarely visit bank branches. We are now talking about digital portfolios, virtual assistants, chat bots, cloud solutions, voice-supporting platforms, biometric data and artificial intellect. And this is not the future, this is the present.

What innovations at Postbank are "at the right time and the right place" according to the customers' interest in them?

We still care for the personal contact, but we are determined to standardize all of our new products to save time, to be available at any time and through all channels. But most importantly, to provide extra convenience to the customers whenever needed. We rely on the unconventional and individual approach. Implementing digital services and smart solutions is at the core of our development strategy. We were the first in Bulgaria to offer yet another entirely new service – the consumers may now receive Western Union money transfers directly at our ATMs. Soon we will offer more modern products that provide convenience to our customers, but for now I will not reveal them.

How do you define the precise rate for change, implemented at Postbank, in such a dynamic period?

We are moving at the pace of our customers but we are also trying to be a step ahead of them. They are the most certain factor for development. Things are happening at a speed in today's business. We cannot afford to be "catching up" or "lagging behind." Our customers' plans are constantly developing and it depends on us to be by their side as their trusted business partner throughout the entire process.

The business expects tailor-made banking from you. But what is the current "measurement"?

In our views, the "measurement" has always been the good business idea, regardless of the sector and how big the company is. Currently, the banks offer loans at record-low interest rates in all segments. However, in my opinion, it is unwise to build a business model and its plans on the bases of low borrowing costs. We all know that the interest rate level is a result of the economic cycle and the first signals for the end of the record-low rates are already here. We, at Postbank, use every opportunity to consult our customers on this issue. We help them understand how important it is their individual business model to be built on a foundation that could face different challenges. Because success loves the brave, but it goes to the prepared ones.

As for our corporate customers' expectations, we know that they work in a dynamic environment, which requires strategic thinking and a good navigator. Therefore, the "tailor-made banking", which we offer, includes an adequately selected mix of consulting and flexible solutions for their finances. We offer not only better conditions for a particular loan, but also faster response and a comprehensive service. We approach individually every company and we evaluate the funding possibilities of every project depending on its potential. We offer not only all standard loan products, but also some more specialized – factoring, custodian services, and investment banking. We have also built a network of specialized Corporate Banking and Small Business Banking centres, which work personally with the entrepreneurs.

In the beginning of this year Postbank won an employer of the year award. Why are people important to you?

A united and initiative team generates good ideas, and I am happy to have the pleasure to work with such a team. We try to have a constant two-way communication with the people, which is built on mutual trust and unified corporate culture. We recognize the personal contribution, efforts and knowledge of every one of our employees.

People want to work in a company that thinks about them in the long run – it gives them clear goals, a career path for development, it offers training and social responsibility programmes. Our whole sector should put more efforts because it needs both young employees and skilled professionals.

An event, a fact, a result, which has given you the greatest satisfaction in the last year?

2017 was one of the most successful for Postbank and the results that we achieved confirmed it. During that year, we registered an increase of corporate loans of over BGN 450 million, which is a 15 percent growth. We registered over 50 percent increase of mortgage loans, and our portfolio went up by BGN 110 million. As a result, our revenue for the last year increased, and our profit was extremely good.

We continued to create modern banking products and services that are unique for the market, and give real added value to the customers. We invested in an entirely new brand for innovative consumer lending – Momento, which we will continue developing throughout 2018. But most importantly, we kept our customers' trust.

As I already shared, the “Employer of the Year” award in the b2b Media's Best Employer's Brand contest gave me the biggest satisfaction. It is also a great honour for me to hold Atanas Burov Foundation's award for banking and financial management for 2017. I am also happy with our team's prizes, such as – an award in the Quality category in the CEIBG's successful business awards; the fact that our bank was declared the top custodian in Bulgaria by Global Custodian Magazine for a sixth consecutive year; as well as the Best Bank in Bulgaria in Commercial Financing 2017 prize by Global Banking & Finance Review. We received also over ten prestigious awards only within the year for our work in the field of sustainable development, corporate and marketing communications. I will mention just one of them – Postbank was declared the Most Effective Brand by the EFFIE Index Bulgaria 2017.

In this materialistic and technological world we should not forget…

We should not forget to communicate with each other, and therefore, that we should show personal attitude towards our customers because this is how confidence is built. No matter how many "intelligent technologies" we would introduce, the personal communication remains the most important one. After all, the customers' trust is at the heart of our business.

My riskiest endeavour…

A very important part of my job is the assessment in risk taking. I tolerate the risk when it is well calculated. Some of the most difficult, but also most successful decisions in life are related to a certain dose of risk taking. When it comes to innovations in products and services, we need to take risks and face challenges to meet the needs of the customers. Too much caution hinders the innovative ideas.

My philosophy in brief …

I believe that success is on the side of those that are prepared and I know that those who work for their success succeed. If people believe in their abilities and do not wait for the right moment but act now, if they love what they do and develop themselves and the others, as well as the environment, the chance for success is enormous. We are the ones that should raise the expectations every day.