Petia Dimitrova talks to 24 Chasa: We are launching a large-scale transformation of our even bigger branch network in order to provide excellent consumer experience
30 November 2019
Ms. Dimitrova, this week you opened three new “digital” offices of Postbank at a unique event. Tell us more about their concept?
With the merger of Postbank with Piraeus Bank Bulgaria, which ended successfully in a record short time on 18 November, we now have an even wider branch network of over 200 offices. This is a great convenience for consumers because many of them still prefer the personal contact with their banker. We are now focusing on the transformation of our offices, which is subject to our main goal – to create an excellent customer experience in the contact with us.
It is becoming increasingly important for consumers to receive fast and convenient banking services, but also advice and a personal service approach. With the new type of offices, Postbank meet all these expectations at the same time. What is new in them? On the one hand, this is the ultra-modern new design, created specifically to provide convenience and comfort for users. On the other hand, these are the separate digital self-service zones which have an ATM with a deposit function and a large touch-screen with information about the current offers and the conditions of the bank on its products. This is the area where customers can receive account summaries on their own, to pay utility bills, make transfers with Western Union, deposit and withdraw from their bank accounts, that is, this is where some of the routine operations can be performed now. Besides offering convenience to the customers, the self-service zones ensure that our employees have more time to provide even more detailed consultations and financial solutions that meet exactly the customers’ needs.
I think that this is important and it will be highly appreciated by consumers, because the strength of our bank is precisely in being a trusted partner, in consulting the client and offer solutions for their tomorrow.
Our first three “digital” locations were opened in two of the most visited shopping centres in Sofia – The Mall and Paradise Centre, as well as on Beli Dunav Street in Nadezhda district. They are a new generation locations and they are the model by which all our offices will change.
I want to emphasize that the change in our branch network is only part of our consistent efforts to innovate our customer service for the benefit of our clients. More recently, our efforts in this direction have received high international appreciation. Postbank was awarded gold for providing an excellent customer experience in banking (Excellence in Customer Centricity or Customer experience) in one of the most prestigious competitions in the banking sector – The Retail Banking: Europe 2019 Awards. We have earned recognition for the introduction of digital signatures in our branches – an innovation that saves our customers time and has a significant contribution to reducing the use of paper and other resources. This year’s edition of the competition included some of the largest and most famous banks in Europe such as Santander, Danske Bank and Nordea. Our excellent performance in this serious competition is a recognition for us and for the entire banking sector in Bulgaria, because it shows that we have ideas and opportunities to compare in terms of innovation with the largest in Europe. Postbank was awarded as the best bank in retail banking in Bulgaria in the prestigious World Finance Banking Awards 2019 for a second consecutive year. We received this recognition for our innovative and sustainable model of retail banking, the modern products and services that we have developed, the wide branch network spread throughout the country, the alternative communication channels and numerous opportunities for professional financial advice from our experts. Personally, it is important for us that with our projects we contribute to the excellent customer experience in banking, because it is the customer satisfaction that we want to make us stand out from rest.
You mentioned the acquisition of Piraeus Bank Bulgaria by Postbank – a key deal for the sector. What do you achieve with the consolidation?
The deal we made is key for the entire Eurobank group, whose major shareholders are Canadian and American funds, of which we are a part. Its strategic goal is to expand its activities in the markets in which it is a leader.
Postbank has a positive experience with consolidation – the acquisition of Piraeus Bank is the second for us in just three years, after we integrated Alfa Bank-Bulgaria branch in 2016 and started the wave of acquisitions on the market. Thanks to our team of professionals, we were able to complete this transaction in record time, which was a great challenge. We dealt with it without slowing down our pace of development. I would especially like to thank my colleagues for this undeniable success, which once again showed the strength of teamwork and our high motivation.
After the merger, Postbank’s market share on the Bulgarian market was over ten percent in terms of assets, loans and deposits, it ranked third in terms of loan portfolio with a volume of BGN 7.5 billion and in terms of deposits of BGN 9.3 billion.
This transaction strengthens the position of Postbank as a systemic bank on the Bulgarian market. It turns us into an even larger and stronger bank, which will have more opportunities to invest in customer satisfaction, innovation and a wider and more modern branch network. And one of the most important things is that our employees will be able to develop in a successful company that is among the market leaders.
It is extremely important for customers to know that consolidation is a process that moves the market forward, because it allows for the achievement of economies of scale and to direct resources to innovative projects with added value. Thus, in fact, everyone benefits from the consolidation.
The message of the merger campaign was that you will move forward together. Forward to what?
We are proud of our large-scale information campaign under the motto Together Forward. With it we wanted to share with the Piraeus Bank’s clients our vision for the movement, for the change, for the opening of new horizons and additional opportunities in “our” direction “Forward and Upwards”! So the short answer is: together we move forward to the realization of the plans of our clients in the even bigger Postbank, to the next conquered goals and to the new heights ahead of us.
The financial sector continues its digitalization… What can we expect from Postbank in this direction? Our aspiration is invariably not just to be a company that follows the trends, but a bank that sets the trends. And our experience so far shows that we are very successful in this, because we actively encourage the creative spirit in the organization and we create an environment of support for unorthodox ideas. I will give our annual internal competition Ideological as an example, where our employees offer various innovations, and the best receive awards and are implemented in our business.
Each of our innovations is a response to a specific consumer need that we have identified. For the merger with Piraeus Bank, we wanted to be as close as possible to the clients who needed consultation and answers to their questions 24/7. We specifically created a mobile application – EVA Postbank for them, which answers all customer questions regarding the expected changes.
The merger is over and now we will use this channel to provide diverse and useful information to the customers – EVA will help them if they lose their bank card, if they forget their PIN or password, we will give them information about ATM and office locations, news about products, etc. The innovative element in this application, which we have specially introduced, is the “live chat” function. It allows for immediate contact with an expert from the bank in a more specific question of the client, which is also a step towards improving the service.
The launch of the EVA Postbank application was motivated by the success of another of our innovations – the first bank loan chatbot in Bulgaria – EVA, which provides useful information through the Facebook Messenger application. Since its launch last year, it speaks to an average of 100 customers per day and has become one of our most effective “employees”. This innovation has also received several prestigious European awards this year. It was selected in the top nine in the world in the EFMA prestigious international competition, and in tough competition with over 600 innovations at that. EVA is also the national winner in the Innovation category of this year’s European Business Awards and continues in the finals at the European level of the competition.
Postbank is actively working on various digital solutions that customers can expect from us in 2020. I will give just one example – we plan to launch a digital wallet with attractive features that will be different from the mobile banking and will be available to non-customers. So for us digitalization remains a leading priority and our goal is to provide a new solution to meet the needs of consumers and a platform for even better communication with them.
How do you assess the passing 2019 for Postbank? What are your key projects, apart from the merger with Piraeus Bank, which defines it for you?
2019 was another good year for Bulgaria, which marked economic growth, rising incomes and record low unemployment. A better business environment also means higher activity for the banking sector, which is the drive behind the realization of good business ideas and endeavours. We expect the positive development of the Bulgarian economy to continue in 2020.
Another extremely important long-term priority for us is to continue to develop the excellent environment as a top employer and 2019 was another very successful year for us in this regard. We strive to promote an inner culture of trust, creativity and innovative thinking; we offer our talents attractive opportunities for professional development and training. We continue to invest in the office environment in the bank, creating new areas for sports and recreation to provide even better working conditions for our employees. We have implemented with them various inspiring projects and campaigns in support of society and to improve the state of the environment, which further motivate them. Traditionally, our teams are involved in many charitable sports initiatives such as the Postbank Business Run and others. Therefore, we have a strong and successful team with which we set high goals for 2020 and I believe that together we can achieve them – I want to especially thank them for their enthusiasm and dedication.
Which trends will dominate the banking sector in 2020?
We have already mentioned the trend important for the banking sector – the digitalization, which is happening to meet the demands of modern consumers. We, at Postbank, are working on various innovative solutions and we expect 2020 to be successful for us again in this regard, in order to add value to the customer experience.
Both the past year and the coming year are marked by extremely low interest rates – in Bulgaria, for example, we have already reached interest rates that have not been seen in our recent history. They are a result of the policies of central banks, which seek to promote consumption and economic activity. This policy is expected to be maintained in 2020 as well. I can define this as a challenge for the whole sector not only in our country but also in many other countries, because margins are shrinking and this has a negative impact on the banks’ profitability. At the same time, the liquidity in the system in our country is high, the economy is still on the rise and this leads to a stable growth in loan demand and a continuing desire of people and companies to implement their projects. We will support them if they have enthusiasm, a good and promising idea.
Another defining and important process that will continue to have an impact is Bulgaria’s accession to the Banking Union and the ERMII mechanism, part of our path to the eurozone. On the one hand, the financial sector is still highly integrated in the EU – we have had a fixed exchange rate of the lev for over 20 years, our interest rates are comparable to those in many countries in Central and Western Europe, we have levelled the transfer fees in euros and levs. On the other hand, the accession process is associated with some positive changes, unification of the rules and additional transparency. This leads to an acceleration of the real convergence of the national economy towards the eurozone, higher confidence of foreign investors and, in general, higher economic activity. I evaluate this as a positive for the whole society.
There are still some open issues that can significantly affect the economy in 2020, and by this I mean the relations between the leading economic players such as the United States and China, the continuing uncertainty about Brexit and others.
In general, however, we expect another good year, which Postbank will welcome as an even bigger and stronger bank – one of the system participants in the market, a company that supports the environment, partners, customers and its employees.
Mrs. Petia Dimitrova is Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the Management Board of Postbank (under the legal name Eurobank Bulgaria AD). She joined the team of Postbank in 2003 as Country CFO for the eight affiliated companies of Eurobank EFG Group in Bulgaria. In 2005 was appointed Procurator of the Bank. In 2007 she was appointed Executive Director and Member of the MB of DZI Bank. After the legal merger of DZI Bank and Postbank she became Executive Director and Member of MB of the unified bank. In 2012, Mrs. Dimitrova became Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the Management Board of Postbank.
Under her leadership, Postbank acquired and integrated the activities of Alfa Bank – Bulgaria Branch in a record short time, in 2016, and in 2019 it acquired Piraeus Bank Bulgaria in an extremely short time as well.
Mrs. Dimitrova is a Member of the Management Boards of “Atanas Bourov” Foundation, “Borica” AD, Endeavor Bulgaria Association, the International Banking Institute, associate member of the Management Board of CEIBG, the University Council of the American University in Bulgaria, as well as Member of the Industrial Advisory Board – CITY College, International Faculty of the University of Sheffield, UK. She also is a Member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Member of the Young Global Leaders Forum, part of the World Economic Forum, Member of the Gerson Lehrman Group Accounting Council London, UK, Fellow Member of the Chartered Management Institute, UK and Cofounder of the Public Council of Women in Business. She is a chartered accountant, qualified ACCA member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in London, UK. Mrs. Dimitrova has an Executive MBA in General Management from the University of Sheffield, UK and holds two Master Degrees in Finance and Banking and Tourism from the University of National and World Economy and Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. She also holds diplomas and certificates from international universities. She has won many awards, including the prestigious award “Mrs. Economy” in the competition “Mr. and Mrs. Economy”, award by “Atanas Bourov” Foundation for Banking and Financial Management, the Special “Banker of the Year” Awards by Banker weekly and many others.