Eastern Europe’s emergence onto the global financial stage

Thanks to recent economic growth and a push towards improved digitalisation, Bulgaria’s banking sector has emerged as a titan in the region

Sofia, Bulgaria. During the past decade, Bulgaria’s restructured economy has made remarkable progress – a development that was aided by its acceptance into the EU in 2007 

Back in the 1980s, Bulgaria’s economy was based exclusively on the state owning all means of production. By the early 1990s, however, the government began an all-important shift to a market-based economy. To do so, it introduced a programme for privatised ownership and restructured credit, banking and monetary institutions.

A decade later, the large-scale privatisation of numerous industries had successfully taken place and annual inflation had been lowered. During those 10 years, Bulgaria’s restructured economy made remarkable progress – a development that was aided by its acceptance into the EU in 2007.

In the years since the global financial crisis, Bulgaria has enjoyed further economic growth – an impressive feat, given the precariousness of the global landscape. One key factor has been a vital increase in wages, which has driven up domestic consumption as citizens splash out on new cars and household goods. Against this backdrop, Bulgaria’s banking sector continues to go from strength to strength, and shows signs of positive growth for the year ahead too. World Finance spoke with Petia Dimitrova, CEO and Chairperson of the Management Board at Postbank, to find out more about the sector’s ongoing success.

How did Bulgaria’s banking sector fare overall in 2018?
We can say with certainty that 2018 was a strong year for the banking sector in Bulgaria. The country’s banks’ profits increased at a double-digit rate, all business segments are developing positively, and the quality of the loan portfolio continues to improve. We interpret this as positive news, not only for the sector but also for the economy more generally. It is the result of increased consumer and business economic activity, and shows promise for the implementation of new projects.

In the years since the global financial crisis, Bulgaria has enjoyed further economic growth – an impressive feat, given the precariousness of the global landscape

Last year was the most successful in Postbank’s history – we continued our organic development, and we registered record-high financial results and growth above the market average. We owe it all to our customers and employees, as well as the strong support of our shareholders, to whom I am especially thankful for their professionalism and motivation.

What are your expectations for the Bulgarian economy in the year ahead?
We expect 2019 to be another good year for the Bulgarian economy. The Q1 2019 data supports our optimism: the GDP growth rate increased to 3.4 percent on an annual basis and to 1.1 percent on a quarterly basis. The main driver of this was consumption and investments, while some major infrastructural projects have been launched, too. The financial sector is also contributing by lending to viable business projects, a move that supports all other areas of the economy in turn.

What can we expect from Postbank in 2019?
Postbank’s main priorities in 2019 will be to continue growing and to offer increasingly innovative products and services in order to meet changing consumer expectations. We are confidently following the road to digitalisation in order to provide the optimal level of customer satisfaction – this is the main focus of our long-term strategy.

We are actively developing all our digital channels as part of our digitalisation mission in order to encourage further impressive growth. We are also working on several interesting projects that will be launched this year. Lastly, we expect our bank to be recognised again as the market leader in innovation.

How does Postbank hope to continue driving the Bulgarian economy forward?
As a socially responsible company, another priority for us is investing in the development of value-added social projects. We are implementing one of them in partnership with Endeavor Bulgaria – one of Europe’s most renowned entrepreneurial networks. This programme provides comprehensive support – including know-how, mentorship and financing – for companies attempting to scale up. By supporting projects such as these, we are investing in the development of Bulgaria’s business environment.

We believe this is the right path to allow us to grow with other Bulgarian companies and to make our economy more competitive globally. We will also continue implementing another strategic educational project with SoftUni, one of the most innovative academies in Bulgaria. In this partnership, we encourage the education of future digital experts in Bulgaria and reach out to them to help them realise their ideas with us.

At Postbank, we always set ambitious goals; being able to achieve them and even go beyond them is an extremely positive thing. This is possible because we have a vision, a strong team, extensive experience and – most importantly – many customers who see us as a trusted and preferred partner in the realisation of their life plans.