Petia Dimitrova: “Digitalization is the basis of the banking of the future”


October – November 2019, The European Financial Review


The banking sector is changing at an unprecedented rate, with innovative products and value-added services emerging every day. In an exclusive interview, the Chief Executive Officer of Postbank Petia Dimitrova tells how the bank is able to offer the best and personalized solutions to customers through its sustainable focus on digitalization and how the recent merger with Piraeus Bank Bulgaria contributes to the success, continuous innovation and transformation of Postbank into a stronger bank of the future.

Hello, Ms. Dimitrova. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today. Ms. Dimitrova, Postbank is part of Eurobank Group and is one of the largest and most dynamic banks in Bulgaria. Based on Postbank’s 28-year expertise, please tell us what distinguishes it from the competition? What are the unique characteristics that rank it among the leaders in the Bulgarian banking sector?

Dynamics and development are key factors for business success today. That is why Postbank, as part of the strong international group Eurobank, relies on its strategy for digitalization and innovative financial services, excellent consumer experience and organic growth. What has been setting us apart on the Bulgarian banking market for 28 years now is the trust of our customers and the strong motivation of our team, through which we have been able to achieve the highest goals we have set. We aspire to set trends and anticipate the innovations of tomorrow, so that we can be a trusted and respected partner of people and businesses in the implementation of all their plans and projects. We are mostly focused on offering the so-called tailor-made solutions that are tailored to the requirements of our users so that they work in the best way just for them. This has become our strongest competitive advantage. Modern products and value-added services are constantly emerging in the financial sector. They save customers time and are available 24/7 from anywhere in the world. That is why we, at Postbank, created and implemented in practice a sustainable digitalization strategy, providing maximum flexibility and innovative services that fully meet the dynamic daily life of customers. We want to create the best customer journey for them, based on their individual needs, and we believe that we are successful – the level of customer satisfaction is growing.

Another of our competitive advantages is our team. We work with many motivated professionals who create innovative ideas and working solutions and provide added value to all projects of the bank. With us, they have the opportunity to develop their potential, to upgrade their knowledge and skills and to contribute on the one hand to the success of the bank, and on the other – to significantly improve the environment by joining various social responsibility initiatives that we implement, with a focus on education, ecology, etc.

2018 was one of the best, if not the best, year in the history of the Bulgarian banking system, and Postbank registered a net profit of BGN 157 million, or 16 percent more than last year. Could you tell us, what are the factors that contributed to these exceptional results?

Indeed, 2018 was the last of a series of successful years for us, which also saw a very dynamic development of the entire banking sector. The overall development of the economy in Bulgaria had a favourable impact – low unemployment, rising incomes and increased consumption. Banks’ profits in the country grew at double-digit rates, positive developments were observed in all business segments, and the quality of the loan portfolio continued to improve. Last year, the growth of the Bulgarian economy remained above three percent and it exceeded the average levels in the EU again. These favourable factors led to the positive attitudes of the people and business in Bulgaria, who decided that the time was right to implement their plans and projects.

2018 was also one of the most successful years in the history of Postbank. We continued our stable organic growth, we registered record financial results and growth above the market average. Corporate lending increased by seven percent and consumer and mortgage lending increased by nine percent . We continued to develop our branch network and offer innovative products and services without analogue on the market. The trend continues this year and we expect to end it with good results. 2019 is strategically important for us, as we are merging with Piraeus Bank Bulgaria and we are becoming an even bigger and stronger bank.

So we move smoothly to the next question. Postbank completed the acquisition of Piraeus Bank Bulgaria in June this year, a key moment in the group’s strategy for expanding its international operations. Could you tell us more about the strategic considerations behind the acquisition and how it would help Postbank to strengthen its position on the Bulgarian banking market?

I must stress that the merger with Piraeus Bank Bulgaria is a key moment for both Postbank and the financial sector in the country as a whole. The deal is another bold step forward, which proves our commitment to develop and strengthen our leadership position and create the best customer experience. The legal and operational merger of the two banks will be completed by the end of the year, which will allow us to provide our current and future clients with even more competitive advantages. Through consolidation we expect to realize synergies, the so-called economies of scale that will allow us to invest even more in better service, more innovations and state-of-the-art products. This is a process from which all stakeholders benefit.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank every employee and manager of Postbank and Piraeus Bank Bulgaria for helping to quickly and effectively implement the merger process. The support we receive from our international group is also extremely important to us. We have ambitious shareholders with long-term intentions who believe in us and once again trusted us to make this big leap forward together. With the acquisition of Piraeus Bank Bulgaria we strengthen our position as one of the systemic banks in the country. This gives us resources, experience and opportunities for even more ambitious growth, and through them we will continue to offer our customers more innovative banking products.

After the acquisition of Piraeus Bank Bulgaria, how do you think, Postbank would develop in the next five years? What are your short-term and long-term goals/ priorities?

Financial services are evolving rapidly, and what is working today may be obsolete tomorrow. That is why we always strive to move at the pace of the market and customers, to anticipate tomorrow’s trends and to introduce them today. This attitude of ours will remain unchanged. The goals we set are for Postbank to continue to grow organically and to develop in two main directions – customer-oriented service and digitalization. Convenience, innovation, quality service throughout all online and offline channels – this is what our customers require and we will focus all efforts to provide it to them. Besides investing in digital solutions it is important for us to continue to develop our network of offices, as a large percentage of people in Bulgaria still prefer the personal consultations. In order to meet their expectations, we are in the process of completely modernizing our branch network. The already existing innovative branches offer interior solutions and functionalities created specifically to meet the needs of modern and active customers who are open to innovation.

Postbank has been awarded for innovations in the banking sector in numerous prestigious Bulgarian and global contests over the years. Tell us more about your latest innovative products and services, such as EVA chatbot, for which Postbank has been recently awarded by EFMA and the European Business Awards.

Postbank constantly invests in innovations because they create added value in the overall customer experience and establish an even better connection between the bank and its clients. We strive to offer personalized banking products and services to our clients, and provide them with access via their preferred communication channel. For instance, we reshaped the market last year by introducing Bulgaria’s first banking credit chatbot – EVA (Electronic Virtual Assistant), which provides useful information via Facebook Messenger. I know this type of virtual assistants are the first choice of those seeking faster and easy, 24/7 contact with the bank. The results exceeded even our wildest expectations – the chatbot became one of our best performing and preferred customer communication channels and is achieving unique results. It even won the highest national-level award in the Innovations category of this year’s editions of the European Business Awards and EFMA. The success of the chatbot encouraged us to launch a special mobile app to mark the merge with Piraeus Bank Bulgaria – EVA Postbank. It provides customers with fast answers to all of their questions about upcoming changes. We continue upgrading the rest of our channels – our mobile and internet banking functionalities, which saw 3-digit hikes on an annual basis. We are working on other innovative projects, which will be launched stage-wise in the coming months.

One of the most important success factors in the banking sector is offering high-quality customer service. How do you provide the best possible customer experience and meet the increasing demand for on-demand services and the changing consumers’ expectations?
Postbank deems important the relations with its clients. We strive to be close to them, to understand their needs and provide them with the most suitable banking solutions. We offer them a more digital and complex banking service, which combines the advantages of online and offline banking. We maintain one of Bulgaria’s biggest branch networks in order to facilitate the personal contact and consultations Bulgarian customers still demand. At the same time, we are actively developing all of our digital channels because they are the foundation of the banking of the future and our clients are increasingly using them.

How do you manage to keep abreast with the modern bank ecosystem and the fast-developing financial technologies? What growth opportunities there are?
Digital banking and the technologies, which are increasingly penetrating the banking sector, are not just one step, but a long path we need to take. We encourage an environment of innovative approach in our team in order to set the growth pace and the trends on the market. We set up our own innovation laboratory where many good ideas and products are created. I would like to stress that security is of utmost importance in the introduction of new technological services and products. This is our fundamental and leading principle. Investments in projects with added value for the community is another of our priorities as a socially responsible company because we believe we can do more together. We are implementing a unique growth programme in partnership with Endeavor Bulgaria, which is part of one of the most prominent global entrepreneurship networks. It provides a comprehensive support to scale-up companies by offering them know-how, mentorship and financing. The programme allows us to invest in the development of the business environment in Bulgaria and create a network of people and companies with potential, vision and capacity to contribute to the economic prosperity. Being part of another strategic education project we implement jointly with one of Bulgaria’s most innovative universities, SoftUni, we facilitate the development of future digital experts in the country by lending them a hand so that they can realize event their boldest ideas. We are working on the development of real projects, scholarships for talented students, and organize trainings for our staff in various digital courses, which are to be found in a modern institution. The project is a way for enthusiastic students to get a chance for career development in a leading company, which will motivate them to stay and work in Bulgaria.

Ms. Dimitrova, you have occupied different management positions in the banking sector and have been awarded in global contests for your remarkable contribution to the development of the sector. Tell us what attracted you to the banking/financing sphere when your started your career?
I have always liked science and opting for a career in the area of finances was a natural step. I worked at the US Embassy to Bulgaria and PricewaterhouseCoopers prior to joining Postbank where I started in 2003 as a chief financial officer and witnessed almost all major changes in the bank – the acquisition of DZI Bank in 2007, of Alpha Bank Bulgaria in 2016 and the ongoing merger with Piraeus Bank Bulgaria. I know the bank from the inside and I am really proud of my entire team and our joint successes.

Men occupy most management positions in the banking and the financial sectors everywhere around the world. What challenges do you think women at senior finance positions face nowadays? How do you encourage gender equality at Postbank and the sector as a whole?
Today’s business needs visionaries – well-trained people with ideas, innovative approach and a will for change. These are qualities determined by one’s personality, not gender. I believe in gender equality and strive to maintain balance in Postbank’s teams. However, I try to focus on people’s qualities and professionalism when making professional decisions. I believe one can absolutely build a successful career but this is no easy task. It requires discipline, will for self-improvement and personal qualities.

As a CEO of a leading and dynamically growing bank, how do you contribute to your employees’ development? How do you encourage and help create a culture of constant progress at the workplace?
I expect a lot from my team but, at the same time, I fully support them in their success, growth and development. My experience has shown me that employees are motivated, proactive and happy at their workplace then they can exchange ideas and decisions. We offer them a series of opportunities for career development and constant improvement of their knowledge and skills in order to ensure their progress. Our goal is to create a unique atmosphere, which promotes innovative thinking and ideas, and build a team who not only work together, but also share common values, vision, goals and interests. We seem to be succeeding because people often and willingly join various initiatives in support of socially important causes or spend their free time together.
Your job involves big responsibilities. How do you usually spend your time when not working? How do you balance between your professional and personal life?
My life is, indeed, really dynamic but this has never been a burden for me. On the contrary, it gives me with more energy. Over the years, I have learnt to find the balance between personal and professional tasks.

What are the most important lessons you have learnt from your professional career? What would you advise those who want to succeed in the financial sector?
Regardless of the position one occupies, learning and self-improvement are lifelong processes, especially in the today’s dynamic way of life and the boom of innovations, which are changing the business and everyday life. Difficulties motivate me to be more patient. This is why, I advise everyone willing to grow in a dynamic sector, such as banking, to be patient but ambitious, to set high goals, to be proactive and never stop to improve themselves. In a nutshell, I would use one of my favourite quotes, which I deeply believe in and often say:”Chance favours the prepared mind.”

Final question – what does success mean to you?
It has various dimensions and directions. Above all, success embodies the skill to love what you do and do it with enthusiasm. Success is not an end in itself, but a constant movement forward because every conquered summit is the first step to the next one.

Thank you very much, Ms. Dimitrova. It was a pleasure for me to speak with you.