The pandemic has affected the whole financial sector in recent months and forced companies to respond quickly and adequately with plans and strategies aimed to facilitate both clients and employees. This scenario allowed the banking sector to accelerate a digital switch that had already begun before the global lockdown, through investments in high-quality technological innovations reflecting the changed needs of customers.
One of those banks with a driving force for innovation is the Bulgarian institution Postbank, which has been a decisive factor in innovation and in shaping Bulgaria’s banking trends in recent years and has been awarded many times for its innovations. With a nearly 30-year presence among the leaders in Bulgaria’s banking sector, Postbank manages a broad branch network across the country and a considerable client base of consumers, companies and institutions. Further, it has built one of the most well-developed branch networks and modern alternative banking channels. World Finance spoke to the CEO and chairperson of the management board of Postbank, Petia Dimitrova, about the bank’s recent activity and its plans for the future.
The COVID-19 crisis has changed the business environment everywhere around the world. How have you handled it and how has it affected the Bulgarian banking sector?
The COVID-19 crisis has affected many business sectors, including the banking one. We had to respond fast and adequately by adapting our plans and strategies to the situation. I believe Postbank did pretty well – we were prepared for the challenges and provided our clients with personalised solutions when they needed them. In the first days after the lockdown, we were ready with a series of measures aimed mainly at helping our clients and giving them the comfort and security they needed. It may sound like a cliché but I believe every crisis opens new opportunities and helps us test our progress. The business sector, not just the banking one, had to respond with the speed at which consumer behaviour changed – literally in one day – and show it is resilient.
Well-operating companies are used to tackling challenges but only the successful ones are prepared for them. If I have to point to one positive effect of the crisis, it is that it taught us to be bold in the introduction of innovations, which are aimed at our clients’ convenience and can be used remotely. We had to meet their main expectation at that moment – fully remote access to their personal finances via our efficient digital channels. Of course, our offices remained open but complied with all required protective measures because we knew some clients prefer this means of communication. Meeting our employees’ expectations to protect them and facilitate their work was another of our priorities.
The crisis showed us we can be faster and more efficient by shifting our focus to modern technological solutions. We had one main goal – to be more flexible and find the useful solutions consumers and companies need now because they will be important for them tomorrow. As a leading bank on the market, I am glad we managed to fully meet this need of our clients, which is also at the foundations of Postbank’s motto, ‘Solutions for Your Tomorrow.’
You mentioned digitalisation. What solutions have you introduced in Postbank to facilitate your clients and employees in the current situation?
The pandemic undoubtedly changed the banking sector towards the desired direction of service digitalisation we all have been talking about for a long time. It clearly showed that now is the time for swift but high-quality innovations, express financial solutions and products, which mirror the changed needs of our clients. They should be easy to use and accessible via clients’ preferred channels. Postbank was fully prepared to meet the new reality because the digitalisation processes in the bank started a couple of years ago and the COVID-19 crisis focused our efforts even more and made us speed up our plans.
With the Bank@Home campaign, we encouraged our clients to stay home, thus protecting them and our staff. We launched a fully remote process of applying for and receiving debit and credit cards, which our clients can have delivered to an address of their choice. We provided them with an option for online consultations for mortgage loans via EVA Postbank mobile app and a real-time conversation with the bank’s employees via the live chat functionality.
Postbank has been a market leader and a trendsetter for 30 years now. The introduction of various digital solutions is the main focus of our strategy in order to provide excellent consumer experience to every client and an opportunity to reduce the daily workload of our employees.
This is why it was quite a natural step to be Bulgaria’s first bank institution that has implemented a large-scale and considerable optimisation for just six months via robotic process automation technologies. We incorporated six robots, which were ‘trained’ to execute 20 of the processes typical of the back-office, including using templates to create documents, updating user profiles, entering invoice data, payment processing, etc. This way we reduced the time for processing and implementation of those processes by about 80 percent on average.
We also achieved something important – we improved the general consumer experience because innovation optimises activities, which are directly related to an effective and full customer service. We are planning to develop and incorporate new robots in the future to further optimise the bank’s processes.
You launched a thorough transformation of the Postbank branch network and introduced express banking digital zones. At what stage are you in this process and how did consumers respond to them?
The bank branch of the future is equipped with high technologies and is a reflection of modern clients’ needs. This is why we are overhauling the design of our broad branch network. We started the process in end-2019 with the opening of our first digital offices, which are part of our comprehensive policy of introducing innovations for the convenience of our clients. Following the best global practices, we have been opening since mid-2020 express banking digital zones in our branches to offer faster and more convenient services to our clients. They are currently available in 32 Postbank offices in 15 Bulgarian cities, and enable our clients to identify themselves with their bank cards and carry out about 90 percent of cash desk operations by themselves.
They can use the self-serving devices to deposit or withdraw cash from their Postbank cards and accounts, make transactions in BGN from all of their accounts in the bank, order bank statements for their accounts or credit card balances, as well as receive monetary transfers via Western Union and many other convenient services.
Speaking of our clients’ response, they are satisfied because they receive one more option to conduct their transactions fast and save precious time, which is an advantage in our dynamic everyday life. Our employees are also satisfied because they will not have to do standard banking operations and will be able to spend more time consulting our clients thanks to the unique service.
We launched a unique mobile wallet that provides more bank services to our clients via their phones – adding all bank cards to their user account, making contactless POS payments via their phones, managing the cards in their mobile wallet through setting limits for the different payment channels (POS terminals, ATMs, online payments), an option for adding loyalty cards, discount vouchers for shopping with our partners, making direct transactions between the users of the new mobile app to accounts in Postbank or other banks in Bulgaria, as well as other bank cards in the EU. There are numerous conveniences and I am sure our clients will appreciate them.
We have quite recently launched another innovation for internal communication with the bank’s team. The special mobile app, Digital Office, enables us to manage our internal processes even more easily, which is a great convenience because we have many offices and employees across the country. Being a company that prioritises both the innovations of the products and services we offer to our clients and the care for our team, we see the app as an opportunity with which we can further take care of them by making their everyday life easier and improving the communication between them. The app is a continuation of our strategy to be a preferred employer and of our vision about the people we want to attract as employees and develop their skills in the company by meeting their needs and expectations.
What are Postbank’s plans for 2021?
2021 will surely be a special year for us because we will celebrate our 30th anniversary. In all those years, we have not stopped moving forward, but what is most important is that we remained a bank of first choice for our clients. We achieved it thanks to our work and united team. We have recently won the Bank of the Year in Bulgaria award and are really proud of this recognition. The accolade certainly motivates us to set even more ambitious goals that we are not just striving to achieve, but overachieve. One cannot move forward without a good team.
This is why I am glad I am working with real professionals and Postbank is among the top employers in Bulgaria. As I mentioned, we are planning to further expand the functionalities of our Express banking digital zones, as well as their coverage in Bulgaria as part of our strategy to provide excellent consumer experience to every customer.
Our efforts in this direction have won several prestigious international accolades. We are happy we have been named for the third consecutive year Best Retail Bank in Bulgaria by World Finance and won an award for consumer experience in banking in one of the most prestigious contests in the banking sector, Retail Banking: Europe 2019 awards. We will continue our CSR projects, including a strategic partnership with Bulgaria’s most modern software university, SoftUni, with which we support young people in their development and create a working, bidirectional connection between the business sector and education.
We are partners of the entrepreneurs in Bulgaria in our effort to help them achieve higher business growth. We have been successfully working in this direction with the team of Endeavor Bulgaria on its Dare to Scale programme for the second consecutive year. We also support projects of the United Nations Global Compact Network Bulgaria.