The bank in your smartphone


25 October 2017 


The first thing Petia Dimitrova, CEO and chairman of the Management Board at Postbank, does when he arrives in her office in the morning is to check her special hotline. This is an email which all bank employees can use to write to her and share opinions or ideas.
“I always take time to look through this correspondence, because the connection with my team is extremely important and I believe that this approach greatly facilitates the work process,” she says.
As day goes by, her work schedule includes both offline and online work. Banking today is unthinkable without new technologies. Whether it is about banking operations, compliance with regulatory requirements, marketing activities of the bank, reporting results, customer service – innovations in this area have taken over enough territory so as to become irreplaceable.
“We are already talking about omnichannel banking – the relationship with customers is both personal – in our offices and online through all social channels,” says Petia Dimitrova, who is an avid supporter of the idea that transformations today are driven by innovation and no bank can afford not to follow this line of development.
“Every connected device can now become a reliable payment technology. We can pay with bands, rings and others. In Bulgaria, innovations in payments are a little slow to come, but we certainly cannot stay isolated,” she believes.
Financial institutions such as banks have always been considered conservative in many ways. However, today they cannot afford not to pay attention to the digitalization of more and more human activities.
As Petia Dimitrova puts it, “the future cannot be stopped.” Dimitrova even believes that innovations are becoming a leading force and will determine a large part of the trends in the market for a long time ahead. The introduction of one or another technological innovation has long been not an exception, but necessity in banking.
“We are even talking about a changed model of banking – technology and customer expectations affect all areas of our business: service, sales, processes, marketing. Today we are already talking about digital wallets, payment via a robot, chat bots that simulate communication with a person, as well as artificial intelligence,” says Petia Dimitrova.
Postbank was one of the leaders in the introduction of e-banking and mobile banking on the Bulgarian market. Today, both platforms are a source of special pride for the bank’s management.
“We are seeing an over 15 percent increase in the new registrations for online banking in 2016 compared to 2015, and the forecasts for this year are that they will increase even by over 50 percent,” says Petia Dimitrova. In transactions, the bank’s experts expect about a 20 percent hike compared to 2016. “I am delighted that our mobile banking is growing steadily both in the number of users who downloaded the application and in the number of those who actually use it. Proof of this is the over 90 percent increase in the average monthly number of transactions in 2017, compared to the data from the previous year,” said the Postbank CEO.
Moreover, the m-Postbank mobile application has one of the highest ratings in online stores among the other mobile banking applications in Bulgaria – 4.5 in the App Store and 4.4 in Google Play. This is a very positive result both for the application itself and for Postbank as a whole.
The financial institution constantly receives many external proposals for new technological products, but in Postbank they rely more on those who develop and stay present in the market. Over the years, they have focused their efforts on the development of alternative sales and service channels – they have developed a new application for mobile banking, a mobile application for credit cards and innovative banking products without no alternative on the market. So, their customers can also take advantage of an array of digital services to manage their accounts anywhere in the world.
In 2017, for example, the bank offered its customers an innovative payment called “Супер сметк@” (Super Account), where a salary can be transferred and which allows for the receipt of a cash bonus, if used actively on a daily basis for electronic transactions. It also offered its customers the latest MasterCard Cash credit card, as well as the special More Today credit program, with which consumers can increase their disposable income by up to 50 percent.
The bank recently opened state-of-the-art Momento consumer lending centers at Paradise Center and Sofia Ring Mall, which offer quick approval for consumer loans. They are the natural heirs of the consulting and sales service launched in 2016 by the bank’s mobile bankers called Bankers At Your Disposal, which in a very short period of time has become a significant generator of new business in the retail segment.
One of the biggest challenges in Petia Dimitrova’s career is Postbank’s acquisition of Alpha Bank – Bulgaria Branch in 2016.
Apart from the fact that the deal itself was complex and important, not only for the bank, but also for the entire sector, it required a huge amount of work, including the unification of all processes, systems and databases in record short time. Moreover, this had to be done without customers noticing anything, as the lenders could not afford to stop working. The whole merger went well and today the bank’s customers have many more opportunities. Because, as Petia Dimitrova says, larger banks have more opportunities for development, they can more easily meet the increased regulatory requirements and invest in new technologies.
As a member of the management boards of Borica and the Association of Banks in Bulgaria, Petia Dimitrova also has an insight into the overall digitalization of the banking business in Bulgaria. According to her, it happens gradually, and this is normal. “Unfortunately, to a large extent, our society is not fully ready for all the innovations that are offered in more developed countries. For example, Deutsche Bank expects to replace a large part of their employees with robots very soon. We are still very far from the moment when robots will be in charge of the communication with our customers “, she says.
The reason is that the relationship between a bank and its customers is based on trust. There will always be people who will prefer personal contact. Data from Eurostat and the NSI for 2016 show that just over 60 percent of the active population in Bulgaria uses the Internet, compared to an average of about 85 percent in Europe.
As far as the use of online banking is concerned, the levels in Bulgaria are about 5 percent, compared to almost 50 percent on average in Europe. An additional factor determining the slower processes is the constant changes in regulations and legal frameworks.
But there is only one direction and it is towards digitalization. Because its advantages in terms of price optimization and cost reduction are irreplaceable.
Besides, everyone in the banking business feels the healthy competition in the face of fintech companies. They are not the subject of so many regulations and can afford many things. Bulgaria has not shied away from these trends and we can see that more and more companies for peer-to-peer lending, cheap remittances and payments are appearing here as well.
However, Petia Dimitrova also reminds us that many European banks are acquiring more and more successful mobile fintech startups instead of creating their own. “Banks in Bulgaria cannot stay away from this process. The result of all this can only benefit the end user. At Postbank we try to gain experience from all the good practices of these companies, and when we find things in common, we try to partner successfully,” she says.
Should they invite customers to their offices or bet on digital banking? Some banks may find it hard to choose between these two approaches, but this is not the case with Postbank.
“I have always said that personal contact cannot be replaced by any technology. That is why banking experts will continue to play a vital role by consulting our clients,” shares Petia Dimitrova.
She believes the bank branch of the present is already present in our phones, tablets, computers and new smart devices. Time is a valuable resource and that is why more and more of the daily transactions take place through computers and mobile devices. The development of data analysis, voice commands and cloud technologies will allow banks to operate unnoticed via personal virtual assistants. The bank is doing what it needs to do to increase the number of payments in the digital environment, such as lowering customer costs.
“At the same time, however, our bank offers the Mobile Banking Experts service, which can consult our clients anywhere at any convenient time for them, without having to visit the bank branch, but also without depriving themselves of a personal meeting with their banker,” Dimitrova explains.
In other words, it relies on the integration of more and more modern solutions and the development of alternative service and sales channels in addition to the traditional service in the bank branch.
The daily life of Petia Dimitrova herself as a CEO with many responsibilities is unthinkable in her opinion without the new technologies.
“I can’t imagine a day without a cell phone, for example,” she says.
She has several mobile applications on her personal smartphone, and she often uses the m-Postbank mobile banking app. Whenever she has the time, she likes to travel with his family, so she often uses travel apps.
She claims that over the years she has learned to plan her time well, but the end of the working day for her does not come at any specific time. Her presence is invaluable to the team, so she is available whenever they need her emergency input.
“Of course, in my job you have to be ready to work 12 hours a day, if necessary, but it doesn’t bother me because I love my job. I am glad that at the end of each working day I feel even more enthusiastic for the next one, and what I do brings me personal satisfaction,” says the Chief Executive Officer of Postbank.