Home Banking Innovation at NBG: the Case of an Incumbent Bank Pursuing Growth Through Innovation

Innovation at NBG: the Case of an Incumbent Bank Pursuing Growth Through Innovation

by internationalbanker

By Stavros Petroulas, Director of Digital Channels Division,

Georgios Marinos, Director of Digital Transformation Division and Georgios Vlastos, Director of Group ICT Division, National Bank of Greece



National Bank of Greece (NBG) is the country’s oldest incumbent bank and one of the largest Greek financial groups, offering full banking services—from retail to corporate and project finance—to more than 7 million customers, operating 542 [486] branches across Greece—with approximately €25 billion in retail loans and approximately €40 billion in deposits, and with around 11,500 employees. It has been the bank of reference in Greece for more than 175 years, having financed all major Greek infrastructure projects, and it is traditionally perceived as the most conservative, reliable and trustworthy Greek bank.

Although innovation was not regarded as a key competitive strength of NBG, the bank has historically been an innovator, having launched the first automated teller machine (ATM) and the first credit/debit cards in the Greek market, as well as the first native mobile-banking app for Apple smartphones. In order to promote in a more dynamic way its culture of innovation, NBG put in place in 2009 a very systematic approach to revamping its digital footprint by establishing i-bank, not just as a new brand for its digital channels and related services but also as an innovation platform for cultural change. It was a signal to clients, employees andshareholders that this well-trusted banking leader was moving forward in the digital age, laying great emphasis on digital technologies, innovation and improved customer experience.

Over the last decade, NBG has been strongly investing in technology initiatives. The bank offers premium cashless and digital services, with the upgrade of digital infrastructure constituting one of the bank’s key priorities. Indeed, technological innovations have transformed the bank via new, innovative products and services.

Innovative digital solutions

The bank launched anew internet and mobile banking platform with the best response rates in the Greek banking market using Microsoft technologies in a unique, innovative way. This led to a boost in internet and mobile banking usage and penetration among retail-banking customers. Indicatively, active users of internet banking increased by 32 percent year-over-year in 2017, whereas active mobile-banking users increased on an annual basis by 66 percent. Transaction growth was also significant, amounting to +23 percent year-over-year in 2017 for internet banking and +147 percent year-over-year for mobile banking on an annual basis. Within five years, the bank managed to reach 75 percent of customer transactions being performed via electronic channels from 55 percent in 2013, with an aim to further increase this percentage.

True to its innovation DNA, NBG has also launched competitive digital solutions, all of which have received international recognition.

  • First of all, the revolutionary mobile wallet, i-bank Payan instant payments solution enabling P2P (peer-to-peer) and P2B (peer-to-business) account-to-account payments. Based on Bluetooth and QR, i-bank Pay can be used via all mobile devices. In addition, since the transactions are essentially credit transfers, i-bank Pay completely bypasses the card’s acquiring side, thus offering a competitive commission structure to merchants.

  • Further, NBG launched the first banking wearable solution in the Greek market, i-bank Payband; it is a contactless wristband that extends the capabilities of i-bank Pay by bridging the distance between physical and digital banking in every-day transactions. More specifically, it consists of a waterproof Visa Prepaid card in micro-tag form that fits inside a wristband. The Payband is managed either by NBG’s mobile banking app or by the i-bank Pay app for balance and transaction inquiries, fund transfers, limit and PIN management, and top-ups. Additionally, the Payband, through specialized software, provides additional functionality to its holder, such as event-entrance validation, social-media integration, etc.

  • Until recent years, the Greek economy was cash-based; therefore, for NBG, waiting times at the branches had long been the most important customer-service challenge as a result of its extensive customer base and large share of transactions (especially during transaction peak days). Inspired by ideas submitted by NBG’s personnel in the context of the annual internal “i-dea” innovation contest, NBG launched in May 2016 an innovative application called i-bank pass in order to enable users (a) to select the most convenient branch based on real-time information on waiting time, (b) to remotely issue an electronic priority number for the cashier’s desk and (c) to be notified to proceed to the branch in time and perform their transaction without waiting. The service was launched as a smartphone application and from September 2016 on, is also offered through our site at www.nbg.gr. This application was received with enthusiasm, making transactions at the branch easy and convenient and significantly contributing to customer satisfaction.

Educating customers and employees on digital banking

The i-bank store entrance in “The Mall Athens”

Apart from offering an innovative digital products/services portfolio, NBG lays great emphasis on encouraging the use of digital services by its customers, maintaining a customer-oriented approach within a rapidly digitalizing environment. To this end, NBG was the first bank in Greece—and among the first worldwide—to introduce a pioneering concept store, the i-bank store, which comprises a unique combination of state-of-the-art architectural design and new technologies and offers visitors a true “phygital” banking experience.

The i-bank stores are multi-purpose electronic banking venues that present the entire range of i-bank services (internet banking, mobile banking, i-bank Pay, i-bank Payband, ATMs, automatic payment services). In a high-tech environment, visitors have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the use of digital banking services and explore, either unassisted or with the support of the specialized i-bank store team, a new perspective on the performance of their daily banking transactions in a fast and simple way. Apart from serving as a platform, innovation lab and showcase of NBG digital services, i-bank store visitors can relax, entertain themselves with augmented-reality games and learn about new technologies. Last but not least, the i-bank store architecture and technologies are suitable for people with special needs. Today, we operate eight i-bank stores in major cities in Greece, and the network is set to expand rapidly.

Taking into account that a large part of the bank’s clientele is over 50 years old, the bank’s goal is not only to educate customers on the benefits of the use of electronic banking channels but also to acquaint them with the use of the internet. An initiative called Deixtous (show them), aimed at addressing digital illiteracy, consists of training seminars conducted by young volunteers to older people who need to learn how to use a computer, send e-mails, browse websites, etc.

Finally, it is clear that the successful development and achievement of the bank’s targets depends directly on its staff’s ability to adapt and successfully manage any challenge in the constantly changing environment. In order to ensure that all NBG employees—especially those in the branch network—are familiarized with the use of all of its digital channels and can educate customers on their benefits, the bank created the i-bank genius initiative; selected bank employees from each branch and unit have become i-bank genius ambassadors and train both colleagues and customers on a systematic basis on the use of digital channels for daily transactions. i-bank genius ambassadors—who take this role voluntarily—have formed a dynamic community inside the bank, sharing insights and experiences through a dedicated internal platform. And the results of their contribution have been very positive.

Initiatives to foster the fintech start-up ecosystem in Greece

Time and again, we have seen digital disruption fundamentally erode value across many industries, including music sales, video rentals, travel bookings and newspapers. In each of these cases, incumbents either transformed or became marginalized. Therefore, banks should view disruption as an opportunity to transform and adapt to new market conditions; an opportunity to take advantage of the new digital capabilities, in order to enhance their businesses and improve their distribution models. We need to move from our traditional focus on products and sales to customer-centric services. We need to offer new digital value propositions, develop end-to-end customer-centric journeys, design and deliver an extraordinary customer experience, in order to increase growth and customer satisfaction,and drive new sustainable revenue streams. Banks need to capitalize on the new ecosystem environment, becoming an indispensable part of the ecosystems that are being formulated due to Open Banking and APIs (application programming interfaces).

i-bank store visitors are encouraged to use multiple e-banking channels

NBG was the first bank in Greece to organize in 2016 a fintech hackathon and release an Open Banking API for the developers who participated in this three-day innovation competition. We organized this initiative with CrowdPolicy, a fintechstart-up with which we had worked that year for the creation of the pioneering initiative “Act4Greece”—a crowdfunding platform for the promotion of social and developmental banking but also for gathering sources from the “crowd”. The success of the first NBG i-bank crowdhackathon urged us to repeat this initiative in 2017, but also to create a fintech acceleration program, be finnovative, again in collaboration with CrowdPolicy, which aims to foster the fintech ecosystem in Greece and to explore collaboration opportunities for NBG within promising, new business models.  Now in its third cycle, this five-month acceleration program brings together young people with vision and helps teams and new businesses develop ideas, technological solutions and form new companies in the field of financial technologies. The programme offers services, mentoring, coaching, technical support, resources as well as the Open Banking API, and an extensive supporting network ranging from bi-technology players, consultants from international firms, universities, institutions and professional associations. NBG transformed a traditional branch into “be finnovative” premises. In the same building, business units of retail banking, such as cards, facilitate collaboration. In these renovated facilities, the teams can find a place, open 24/7, to work, arrange meetings with their mentors and receive training in order to transform their ideas into minimum viable products (MVPs).

Finally, NBG is preparing for the new API economy, setting in place its Open Banking platform. Most of our innovative solutions such as i-bank Pay are supported through APIs, which will be publicly available shortly under PSD2 (second Payment Services Directive), enabling our bank to be part of the new ecosystem. Our vision is to become an enabler to all business ecosystems, providing financial services transparently and seamlessly, as an integrated part of the value chain in the new API economy.


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