Banking on best practices to improve customer service, satisfaction
Giacomo Volpi has been deputy CEO at UniCredit Bank Hungary since June 2021. In this exclusive interview, he speaks with the Budapest Business Journal about his focus on improving service and the customer experience, importing best practices, and developing the bank in the country.
BBJ: Did you have any experience of the Hungarian market when you arrived?
Giacomo Volpi: I have followed many Central European markets for UniCredit. I was in Ukraine, for example, as an expat, working for the bank there before we exited the country years ago. My biggest assignment before Hungary was in Bulgaria. I was following other countries – Turkey, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia – from Milan, not on an expat basis, but I was traveling to these countries. Hungary, though, I never happened to touch.
In the end, banks in different countries have very similar challenges, no matter the competition or regulations. The key thing I am looking at is how to make the customer more satisfied by delivering an excellent service because, for us, they are at the center of everything we do. As market conditions and client demand are constantly changing, there is always room for improvement in serving clients. The target is to provide a better service to the retail and corporate customers, which is our major business here. I think we have already made significant progress, but we want to do even more going forward.
BBJ: How was the last business year in Hungary?
GV: 2021 was an excellent year for us. Our bank began to grow from the spring despite the pandemic situation. Just to give you a flavor, lending to customers went up by 8%, deposits from customers went up by around 7%.
We measure how long it takes us to reply to a request for a mortgage, for cash, even for a corporate loan. To give you an idea, we target that if a customer comes to us for a personal loan, we approve and disperse the money within the same day. For our corporate customers, where the process is longer and more technical, we want to answer within three days if it’s not a complicated application. 2021 was a very helpful start for us going in this direction.
BBJ: The bank has introduced a group-wide strategy. What is this new approach?
GV: The group strategy is called UniCredit Unlocked and was presented to the market in December. We are a pan-European bank with 15 million customers and 13 banks. The goal is for these 13 banks to look alike as much as possible, following the same processes to deliver similar products. Certain things come from the specificity of the local environmental framework, but in the end, banking is banking everywhere in the world.
This is the best route to leverage a competitive advantage. This means that all 13 of UniCredit’s banks will be connected by a common model, technology, data platforms and principles to deliver best-in-class products and services to our clients.
We need to take the best practice in one place and replicate that in every country. We want to harvest the synergies at group level. So, the plan is to make the banks more alike, not only from what the customer sees in terms of the type of products but also what’s behind the IT platform to deliver these products and the level of services. Concretely, it means for the client that, no matter where they are and no matter which type of channel they use, they will receive the same service and follow similar steps of the process.
BBJ: Is there anything specific for Hungary that you’re targeting?
GV: We have a strong market position in Hungary in corporate that we want to enhance. And we are, more and more, an emerging player in the retail market. Our target is to be as strong a player in retail as corporate.
The central part of the strategy for UniCredit Bank Hungary is to measure the level of services. As I was saying before, we have this target to give cash to a retail customer within one day, to give a corporate customer an answer within three days; for mortgages, to provide customers a reply within 10 days.
Another thing that is very important and becoming more so is to play our role in sustainability. Sustainability is embedded in our culture and business, and at the heart of all we do. We have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 60% since 2008 and target net-zero on our own emissions by 2030 and our financed emissions by 2050.
If you come to our bank, you will see that most contracts are signed digitally. We decreased paper consumption by about 40% last year versus 2018. We will continue on that journey and with green financing for our customers, whether for solar panels or biomass plants. We are eager to participate in more of these projects. From a sustainability point of view, we need to look long-term.
BBJ: How challenging do you see growth being in terms of competition in Hungary?
GV: It doesn’t matter if the competition is more or less fragmented, whether you have a big player or not. When you start improving the quality of service you give customers, you begin to see increasing growth for your organization. I don’t look much to the others. We look at what we can do to make the client more satisfied. And if you do that, the clients will follow.
BBJ: Where are you in terms of digital transformation?
GV: We want to deliver an excellent service, and digitalization helps that. Our target is to become a truly digital bank, powered by data in everything we do. All our investment strategies and steps lead in this direction. We ask ourselves, “If we give a service to the customer in the branch, can we give the same service digitally.”
But we don’t simply make each service digital. We take the opportunity to rethink the process. How can we do it smarter? What do we ask first? What don’t we need to ask anymore? Every piece of information that we don’t ask the customer for makes it easier for them and us. How can we have one less paper interaction with the customer? Every part of the bank is involved: risk, legal, compliance. Can we do things differently, easier? Together with the IT investment, this is the real challenge of making the process digital.
Fundamental to this is that it’s about people. In the end, banking is a service delivered by people. Yes, technology helps, but you need everybody going in the same direction, with everybody motivated to work for those goals and be proud of them.
BBJ: Will we see fewer high street branches as the digital element of the bank increases?
GV: We’re happy with the size we have. Our target is to digitalize as much as possible. But there will remain services where you want to talk to a person and see different options. We will focus the bricks-and-mortar presence on added-value services. If you’re a small business and you need some financing for your company, you might need to sit down with someone to discuss the possibility of one type of loan versus another. As a bank, we will still be using both channels, digital and bricks-and-mortar.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of March 11, 2022.
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