Petr Baron for Manager Magazine: The game is changing. A new generation of bankers is coming.
19.02.2021 Share +
As one of Manager Magazine’s guests in “The Visionaries” edition, our Petr Baron, CEO, TBIF (TBI Bank), shares the story of TBI Bank’s journey so far – and our brave plans! This detailed interview gives it all – the challenges, the lessons and what is yet to come. Take a look at the conversation:
- How did 2020 change your vision for TBI Bank?
- The pandemic didn’t change our vision significantly. It even accelerated our plans in two key factors. Firstly, we’ve been discussing for some time to start adopting a work from home model. In general banks tend to be closed off, so this is not easy for many of them but over the years we at TBI have nurtured an open and agile mindset. So, when back in March suddenly we’ve switched to working remotely the team was psychologically ready and the process was very smooth. We will continue to operate this model in the future, in fact we’ve already released some of the premises we’ve used a year ago.
The other major factor is the speed at which digitalization is happening. This is of course a macro trend – what businesses were planning to do in 10 years, now must happen in 3 to 5 years. What we saw is that the customer behaviour in 2020 changed and the new norm in banking is self-service. Those customers who started using digital channels will not come back to the branches. Here we were also ready to meet the demand and we saw a huge increase in online sales. In fact, the amount we’ve lent through our e-commerce product in November 2020 matches the amount for the whole of 2018.
- What can you advise those who started their digitalization journey only in 2020?
- They have to be prepared for a very difficult exercise. What is important is to be looking at markets which are more digitally advanced and use them as a potential future growth outlook. It’s not as we are sending people to the Moon or Mars – you just have to adopt the best global ideas to your local market. This is what we at TBI Bank are doing. We are finding the best practices and ideas worldwide and implement them for our customers and the Bulgarian and Romanian economy. But don’t get me wrong – you cannot simply copy paste a service or a solution. There are a lot of things you can learn here and there, but your journey is your journey, and nobody is going to walk it for you. But can you take lessons from others? Sure, you can, and you should. The team and its mindset are also key, as always – it must be open to new ideas. Sometimes these things will not work, and this is ok, but try to fail fast as they say in the Silicon Valley.
- What are the future challenges that are coming for the banking sector and for you?
- The challenges are clear, the banks are being disintegrated from the value chain in many ways. Every bank needs to understand what their role in the future is, because whatever worked for them for last 100-200 years is not working anymore. The game is changing. And the main change is that people are moving to digital channels.
Building such digital products to match the customer needs, takes a different breed of bankers. We have built a team that has customer focus in the DNA – from the design of the product, to its legal base, to the way it’s communicated. We have developed an infrastructure that can carry data-driven decision-making. That way our products can constantly evolve based on the data you are receiving from customer usage. And third, the right people use the right infrastructure to constantly try new products, see how they work, improve them and so create a never-ending cycle of idea generation and experiments. That’s why for us at TBI one of the biggest challenges for the future is to continue fighting for the best people, because they make a difference.
- Bulgarian customers know TBI Bank as provider of customer loans and competitive deposit rates. How are you changing for the future?
- We are changing to become a fintech bank. We are constantly transforming, picking the right opportunities, but you are right, lending and deposits remain in the core of our phygital proposition. Being an inclusive lender, we offer customers – retail and business – the power to access funds that most banks usually do not facilitate. This year we will open our mobile app to mass audience and allow Bulgarians to onboard directly into our mobile bank. With biometrical identification they can receive an IBAN, our fees free NEON card and a preapproved limit of funds conveniently in the palm of their hands. We will also continue to expand our lending products and soon will be sharing news on some cutting-edge tools and services we are working on. Let’s not forget our merchant partners, whom we power up to sell more, and our common customers – shop smoothly.
- How does leadership work from a distance and is this the future way of working?
- Working from the distance is nothing new for our team. For years we’ve been traveling a lot between our two HQs in Sofia and Bucharest. Since we also have a lot of expats and people from 15 nationalities on the team teleconferencing and spending time away from each other has always been the norm for us. But, that said, it would have been very difficult to still be as effective as we have been during the pandemic unless we haven’t built very strong relationships between ourselves. We are aligned in our own goals or vision and that helps enormously. From my personal perspective distant leadership, of course it is not ideal. We all like to be closer, and love to spend time with each other.
- And, finally, what’s your vision for the fintech and banking industry development and particularly TBI Bank in, say, 5 years from now?
- I think that fintech and digitalization are changing finance as we know it, they are really making banking much more consumer friendly and at the end consumer truly wins from all that. My vision is that finance in general will become much more an embedded experience rather than a standalone need.
As for TBI, in 5 years we want to be the leader in providing finance and covering the financial needs of our customers in Southeast Europe. By developing a shopping ecosystem for our merchants, we want to help them sell more and thrive. For our customer it means brining the shopping experience and lending together with everyday banking in a very embedded and natural way. That way we can turn a stressful experience into a happy one. Our task is to make sure that in 5 years these finance and shopping experiences are as light and easy as possible, and our customers can spend more time on the experiences that bring the dopamine dosage to them. And we as TBI just stay in the background and help them be successful and happy.