The Bulgarian institution, Postbank, this year celebrated three decades since it was founded. Despite the challenging year with the effects of the pandemic still being felt, Postbank has managed to navigate itself through 2021 thanks to its flexibility, commitment to personalised service and willingness to learn. Drawing on its 30 years in the international banking space, the institution is now looking to the next 30. World Finance spoke to Petia Dimitrova, CEO and chairperson of the bank’s management board, about embracing digitalisation and supporting Bulgarian entrepreneurship going forwards.
How has Postbank responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for digitalisation?
Everything that happened over the past year and a half posed many challenges for all of us. It was a test of our capability to adequately respond to a change the scale of which could not easily be foreseen or controlled. These recent times have allowed us to get to know the situation we are living in and to efficiently organise internal processes. Bulgarian banks responded to this situation very well and once again showed that they are resilient and stable institutions. Results show that the banking system has been through minimal stress during this critical period. And although the pandemic has had an effect on the way we work with multiple restrictions, the Bulgarian banking sector remains stable and profitable, with high levels of capital adequacy and liquidity. The future of banking is undoubtedly digital, with more advantages and benefits for our customers, providing what is most important – a speedy, time-saving service.
We started digitalisation processes at Postbank a few years ago, when we created a special unit dedicated entirely to that mission. This team developed the overall strategy and its implementation, set priority fields for investment in creating new products with one main aim – digitalisation. This is why in 2020 we were ready, reacted quickly and responded to our customers’ expectations. That we are on the right track was proven by the data, which show that for yet another year in a row Postbank scored a significant increase in customers who now choose to use the digital channels of the bank. Now more than 70 percent of transactions are being carried out online.
What are the benefits of digitalisation?
The pandemic was not only a catalyst for digitalising banks but was also a stimulus for financial literacy among customers after successfully transforming attitudes that we would have otherwise waited for years to change under normal circumstances. The months spent in isolation helped many Bulgarians discover the benefits of digital banking channels and the speed and security with which they can manage their funds online. Naturally, this is a process, so we expect it to continue, and we will be by our customers’ side, responding to all their specific expectations for faster and more convenient banking. As a modern bank working towards protecting the environment, we were among the first to introduce an innovative way to confirm payment documents with a digital signature. Thanks to this, we decreased the use of paper by 43 percent.
What are the leading trends you expect to see in the banking sector in Bulgaria for the next year?
We are currently focused on instant payments, which allow for funds to be transferred to a counterparty in seconds. Postbank, together with BORICA, a company providing technology infrastructure to the Bulgarian payment industry, has been working hard to implement this product and we expect it to be available to our customers by the end of the year. Banks are starting to pay much more attention to online customer experience and are introducing entirely digital processes. I believe these are processes that eventually will benefit customers, since with healthy competition in our industry we manage to further contribute by adding new products and services to e-channels.
Along with this, our mission is to adequately participate in the development of Bulgarian society and as a leading financial institution, to assist with projects in the major spheres of social life, such as education, culture, sports and environmental protection. Our mission is motivated by the deep and genuine concern for the most valuable asset of our bank, people.
This year, Postbank celebrated its 30th anniversary as one of the leading banks in Bulgaria. Can you tell us about the products you have launched to mark the occasion?
We offered our customers our unique new generation mobile wallet, ONE Wallet, with which customers can perform even more banking services through their phones. They can have practically instant contactless access to main banking services as they transfer their physical wallet onto their mobile phone. They can add all their cards into this new wallet and freely and efficiently manage them thanks to the rich range of functionalities set in the app. There is support for contactless POS payments through the phone, managing cards in the mobile wallet by setting limits for different channels (POS, ATM, online payments), opportunities for adding loyalty cards from various merchants, discount vouchers for partners and much more. Our customers have active and flexible control over their funds 24/7, which is certainly a convenience nowadays. This is why I am sure that ONE Wallet will become an irreplaceable application in everyday payments for each of us.
Our mission is motivated by the deep and genuine concern for the most valuable asset of our bank, people
Another major innovation we carried out at Postbank was the introduction of our express banking digital zones that were immediately recognised as a preferred alternative to banking at a counter. Thanks to the intuitive devices in these zones, customers can easily and quickly carry out a major part of main banking transactions after identifying themselves with their debit or credit card, with no need to be registered for the bank’s online banking. Digital zones are already functioning in 75 branches in 32 towns across the country and we will be unveiling more locations and upgrading the service.
Our customers’ needs are of greatest importance to us, and we will therefore continue offering new solutions for managing their finances. One of our main goals in this process is to create high-quality products providing them with the necessary security of the investment. A few months ago, we became the first bank in Bulgaria to start offering a new-generation metal credit card.
Once again, we demonstrated our position as an innovator in the sector and succeeded in offering our customers something different, modern and valuable in order to meet their highest demands and expectations. We are happy that our customers appreciated this modern product that gave them even more flexibility and confidence, completely in line with their style.
We are pleased to be the first bank in Bulgaria to offer an easy and convenient solution for contactless payments for any merchant. The innovative service, which contributes to mobility, holds the key to the effective development of many industries, and is attractive to both small and niche businesses, as well as large corporate clients. Smart POS by Postbank aims to upgrade the established POS business model and make contactless payments much more accessible and convenient for merchants. This, in turn, will expand access to contactless payments for end customers, which is not only convenient but also especially important during a pandemic.
What further goals are you working towards with Postbank?
Other than our innovative digital products and services, here at Postbank, we continue focusing our efforts and funds in support of projects with real added value for society and we believe that one of the great effects will be building self-awareness that will change our lives for the better. For the third year in a row, we are participating in the ‘dare to scale’ project – a four-month growth programme, aimed at entrepreneurs and businesses that are already past the initial phase of development and want to scale up their activity. The programme is organised by the Bulgarian office of the global entrepreneurship network, Endeavor, with Postbank as the main partner.
It is extremely important to us to be part of this process, to support the ambitions of companies seeking to upscale their businesses and thus change the entire ecosystem. I am positive that this is the right path and the right attitude to lead us forward. The times we live in provide numerous challenges, but they will be overcome with resilience and our capacity to learn and grow. We at Postbank will share with entrepreneurs our experience and expertise in order to support them in the most important stages of their businesses’ development and become part of their growth. We will seek the potential of successful partnership allowing us to innovate and create opportunities in the ecosystem. To us, this is an investment in the future and a chance to be part of the change moving us ahead.