Which were your bank’s strong points last year?
As you probably know, Volksbank Romania decided to change its strategy in 2010 which is a long term process, but we are on track. In 2012, Volksbank started to implement the new commercial strategy, which meant redesigning the product portfolio and we started building our brand platform. Becoming a universal bank requires time, but we were able to see the first results in 2012 – there was a significant increase of the number of active new clients – 13% percent. It was the best result so far. Also, the total amounts attracted from the market increased 40%, which contributed to the improvement of loans to deposits ratio. We are also improving our brand. Volksbank was quite active in 2012 from the communication and advertising point of view. Following our campaigns, we were happy to notice, based on market studies, that more and more clients recognize Volksbank and our score is higher and higher. We are now fine-tuning our internal organization. Risk is a very important area in a bank, but the risk profile of Volksbank is improving. Of course, there is room for improvement: we are working on becoming profitable again and on increasing clients base, because, on the last mentioned criteria, we are still a small bank, in my point of view.
In your view, how did the entire financial market fare in 2012?And what are the most acute problems you face on the Romanian market and how could they be solved?
About the financial market in 2012, it is a little bit difficult for me to generalize because I only arrived in Romania in July 2012. I notice that some banks are really profitable and are making good business on the Romanian market. More concerning for me is that, in general, some people are complaining that the banking system registered loses. What I want to point out is that, on this market some banks are profitable, so these are the examples for me. I don’t care about the ones that are losing money. I am not going to say that my banks’ results are not so good because of system problems on the Romanian market or on the Romanian financial system. No. If all the banks were in a poor situation I would say the Romanian market is to blame, but it’s not the case.
What are your expectations from the new Government?
The environment could always get better, but the situation is almost the same in all countries. I can’t say the political situation influenced our results, because there were some banks that registered very good results. I agree that it’s better for everybody to have stability, organization, predictability, a stable way of looking at the future. The Government has to do its job and we all have to do our jobs. Sincerely, I do not want to talk about the government, because I am not a person to get involved in political matters. The deficit is not so high, the production costs are quite low, the people are quite skillful, intelligent, and so I can say that here in Romania we can find people with good level of education which are ready to work hard. Basically, I look for advantages and there are so many in Romania, and this makes me quite confident regarding the future of this country. I don’t see any reason why I should not remain here and do business. Obviously, there isn’t only the political issue. There are many other things to be checked, to be monitored. What can I say is that here there’s a market where we can grow, where we are able to make profit.
What products does your bank offer this year and what are the targets in 2013?
This year, definitely, we are going to focus on implementing our new strategy. We aim to have more clients and to have day-to-day operations with them. We are targeting mainly households and small and medium enterprises. Since 2010, we have designed and launched all the products that allow us to serve these clients: Internet banking, accounts, savings, loans. Now we are focusing on attracting new clients. Prices should help us: we are not an expensive bank and our price policy allows us to be competitive in order to attract more clients. We are trying to work closely with our clients, for example is a client is not pleased, we try to find the right way to solve the issue. Also, we want our front-office staff to be able to give valuable advice to clients, suited to their needs. In my opinion, what is going to make the difference between banks is the price policy and the service quality. As I see it, working on quality and having correct process is more important than launching new products. The clients’ trust in our bank is another very important thing that we have to work on. In five years, I want to see Volksbank one of the most trustworthy banks in Romania, a reliable bank, bank which offers high quality service and why not, an innovative one. In order to achieve this, we are going to invest a lot in our IT system starting this year. There are thousands of operations every day and these operations must be done in fast and accurate manner. We also work on the risk side. Banks must balance risk taking and sales increase. A high risk profile because it’s not good for the bank, not good for the client either. I’ve read some articles that clients were obliged to sell their houses and this is very disappointing.
Could you tell me if you have to make some personnel restructuring?
Volksbank is a small bank and we are planning to grow, so from my point of view, cutting staff is not compatible with our development plans. This is under the assumption that everything goes well, and at the end of year, when we draw the line, we are above budgeted figures. However, if targets for 2013 aren’t met, the perspective will be different. We increased the number of people working with Volksbank last year. For this year, the total number of employees should be stable. 1,300 employees is quite an important figure and we want to invest in training in order to improve their skills, their ability to cope with challenges. Also, we want to keep our employees motivated. All these are important success factors for a profitable bank.