Before the outbreak of the pandemic, it was often stated that leading social forces around the world were actively moving in different directions towards globalization; however, COVID-19 considerably rearranged megatrends worldwide and dictated its rules to everyone. The pandemic has acted as a digital catalyst for almost every sector and has accelerated technical modernization, among others, pushing organizations to rapidly shift from working at a physical location to a virtual space. Those who began making strategic investments in technology long before the pandemic benefitted from a competitive advantage. ProCredit Bank Georgia, a bank with 100% German capital that has been a reliable and stable financial partner for customers for more than 20 years, is a good example of this. To find out how the Board of Directors of ProCredit Bank assesses 2020, a year full of challenges resulting from the pandemic, as well as what expectations the institution has of the future, GEORGIA TODAY spoke to Alex Matua, General Director of ProCredit Bank.
HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS THE STEPS TAKEN BY THE BANKING SECTOR TO MITIGATE THE REALITY OF COVID?
Looking at the banking industry in this country, we can freely say that the sector has met the challenge of the pandemic with timely, consistent, and collective responses. I think we have used the technologies at our disposal effectively and have demonstrated strength and speed. The banking sector plays an important role in stabilizing the economy. The healthy level of equity that existed before the pandemic actually helped to partially mitigate the negative effects of the crisis, and I believe that the role of the banking sector will be crucial in maintaining the positive effects on the country’s economy. However, it was not easy for anyone to shift their operational model to a digital space within in a few weeks’ time. In our case, our business model made things easier for us. Our self-service concept and well-developed digital infrastructure allowed us to serve customers without interruption and without them having to wait in queues. At the same time, we continue to further develop and refi ne our remote channels.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAS THE COMPANY FACED THIS YEAR AND WHAT STRATEGIC APPROACH HAS THE BANK USED IN DEALING WITH BUSINESSES?
There is only one answer to this question: the goal of our responsible banking approach is to be a reliable partner for small and medium-sized businesses in all situations. This role becomes especially visible in difficult periods. During these times, we have been able to further strengthen our customer relationships. It is also worth noting that as part of the bank’s strategy, we provide financial support to businesses that are engaged in structurally sound and long-term profit-oriented activities. It is this approach that has enabled us to maintain a high-quality loan portfolio – even during the pandemic. The trust given to us by businesses is built upon years of experience in a stable partnership. They know that we are always ready to provide customized support along with access to financial resources − especially during crises. Despite the challenges, ProCredit Bank has had sound results this year. This highlights the stability of our business model focused on sustainable financial performance and positive social impact.
FROM VIDEO IDENTIFICATION TO NEW INTERNET BANKING – PROCREDIT BANK HAS IMPLEMENTED EXTENSIVE PROJECTS THIS YEAR. IS SUCH AN APPROACH TO BUSINESS, EVEN DURING A PERIOD FULL OF CHALLENGES, AN IMPORTANT GUARANTEE FOR PROCREDIT BANK’S STABILITY?
We began changing traditional banking and introducing our customers to innovations years ago. In addition to building professional relationships, we adapted more to different customer segments. In the end, the awareness we have of our customers today, the “online migration” strategy and the use of smart machines in business, as well as our highly qualified staff members, have enabled us to adapt quickly to new needs. Establishing a place for oneself in the online infrastructure is a challenge; user behavior requires new formats and the pace of development is much faster. It is not easy to look at traditional banking with fresh eyes and translate it into daily banking behavior for customers. That is why a few years ago, we started implementing a different approach that involved introducing step by step the remote and independent provision of banking services which save the customer time, ensure speed and make it possible to avoid queuing to receive service. As a result, ProCredit Bank is no longer a physical location, but rather a space operating effectively “online” that is always accessible via a mobile phone. Behind every simple “click”, there is a team of professionals ensuring the efficiency, security and speed of your banking transaction. New challenges have highlighted the importance of the security of digitized banking services. At this time, ProCredit Bank pays careful attention to maintaining high security standards. If given the choice between speed, simplicity and security, our unconditional priority is clearly the protection and security of our customers’ finances.
ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE BANKING IS WHAT ACTUALLY SETS PROCREDIT BANK APART FROM OTHER INSTITUTIONS. PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THE PROJECTS IMPLEMENTED IN THIS AREA DURING THE YEAR.
We understand that if we want to advance rapidly, we cannot forget the environment. We have to take care of it and use resources wisely, no matter what challenges we are facing. Moreover, our share of responsibility is especially important today. The unity of economic, social and environmental principles must become a fundamental part of business for more and more organizations. We have repeatedly said that we pay close attention to environmental impact issues at ProCredit Bank. We are gradually trying to mitigate the negative impact of our operations on the environment through our internal environmental management system. This year we have made a significant investment in this direction and installed a solar power plant on the roof of our head office. The power plant will enable us to replace an average of 15% of the energy we consume annually with renewable energy. It is also worth mentioning that the head office of ProCredit Bank Georgia is certified according to the EDGE international green building standard, under which the building is included in the list of green offices worldwide, owing to its energy and resource-efficient characteristics and distinctive design, which follows international standards. We are the first company in Georgia to receive this certification.
AND FINALLY, WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM PLANS AND EXPECTATIONS OF PROCREDIT BANK IN TIMES OF COVID-19?
The banking industry will face various challenges in 2021 as well. Some of these obstacles already exist and others will be new. The ambiguity regarding the impact of the pandemic is likely to persist in the near future, but this will not prevent us from taking bold steps and introducing new initiatives. We have institutionalized the lessons learned from the pandemic and have complied a book of experiences that will strengthen our resistance and inevitably accelerate transformation in the post-pandemic world.
We wish you good health and all the best for the New Year!