Every country will eventually have its first 100-percent digital bank, and Greece now has Praxia bank, its pioneer in the space. Currently in the midst of its official launch, Praxia bank claims that it has “created a new, better bank” that “doesn’t just do different things, but it does things differently. A bank as smart as you are and as simple as you’d like it to be. A bank with a human touch coupled with a technological edge, accessible and efficient as never before”.
The brainchild of Bob Diamond, former chief executive officer of Barclays, and fellow Atlas Merchant Capital Fund partner David Schamis, former managing director of the J.C. Flowers private-equity investment firm, Praxia bank’s beginnings can be traced back to February 2017, when Atlas Merchant Capital Fund acquired Credicom Consumer Finance Bank SA fromCrédit Agricole. Even then, founders Diamond and Schamis envisioned creating a fully digital bank. A year later, the bank was renamed Praxia bank. The word praxia is derived from the words action and value, important guiding principles for this disruptive digital bank. Serving both retail and business clients, Praxia bank has an open door to value creation and is actively committed to “contributing to the common benefit of customers, employees, society and shareholders”.
This innovative bank’s future looks bright as it sets out to launch into a world increasingly dominated by mobile apps and smartphones but filled with customers who still crave the human touch of compassionate, empathetic banking staff.
International Banker is delighted to be joined by Praxia bank’s chief executive officer, Ms. Anastasia Sakellariou.
Ms. Sakellariou, thank you very much for speaking with us today….
In terms of its structure and/or offerings, what specifically makes Praxia bank the “first digital bank” in Greece?
Praxia bank is the first truly 100-percent digital bank in Greece. We are completely new and built from the ground up and do not operate through traditional physical branches. Instead, our aim is to disrupt the Greek market by providing unmatched customer experiences to our clients over a wide variety of products and services entirely through our customers’ digital devices. To accomplish this, we have developed a state-of-the-art technology platform with end-to-end digital processes, enabling our customers to access our products and services through their smartphones or computers safely and securely whenever and wherever they wish to.
With our digital nature and agile mindset, we are able to continuously develop, improve and deploy new products and services that best respond to our customers’ needs today and in the future. We will also take full advantage of the Open Banking initiative to meet the evolving individual needs of our customers as well as create an efficient ecosystem, partnering with appropriate fintechs and other financial-services providers. In short, we are creating a different kind of bank for all, which is smarter and up to date with current digital trends, and that offers a seamless and easy-to-access banking experience.
According to the bank’s manifesto on its website, Praxia describes itself as “a bank that is digital and yet completely human”. What exactly does this mean? And do you have any examples of this core value being demonstrated in practice?
Being a digital bank, and yet completely human, is not just a statement but the essence of what we do. Having a “human touch” means our digital functionalities are designed to reflect the way real people want to interact with their bank through simple, logical and straightforward app and web pages. Through our active dialogue with our customers, we can and will evolve the user experience to deliver the products and services that customers want in a format that best matches their needs.
And to complement our world-class digital platform, we have also invested in a team of dedicated relationship managers (RMs) who possess the necessary acumen and know-how to provide our business customers with real-time responses and financial solutions to meet their operational needs and maximize their business potential. To achieve all of this, we are planning to provide our RMs with the online, real-time tools to more efficiently facilitate their roles and enhance the value that they bring to their clients. For example, while business-client meetings take place face-to-face, an RM-dedicated tablet app will provide useful peer-to-peer statistics that will enhance the customer’s trust, give them the ability to kickstart actions and back-office processes through a single tap while on the client’s premises, and finally run tools and wizards to recommend suitable solutions that best fit the specific client’s needs.
On the retail side, although we give our customers the chance to perform every single task on their own through our digital channels, we will at the same time provide a human-contact point, who will continuously be available via phone or chat to assist them on any request or issue that comes up in their interactions with Praxia bank. Finally, our mobile app is highly personalized and proactively nudges the customer with in-context tips, notifications and straightforward prompts and messages, which we believe will go a long way to achieve the human-touch element that we are striving for, despite the self-service nature of digital channels.
The bank’s partnership with Raisin, Europe’s leading deposit marketplace, which was announced in April, sounds like an exciting new initiative. What specifically does this partnership aim to achieve, and how do you hope Praxia will benefit?
Our pioneering relationship with Raisin has enabled Praxia to be the first Greek bank to offer deposit products on an internationally recognized market platform. Gaining access to the German retail-savings market for the first time post-crisis has enabled us to diversify our depositor base, optimize our asset/liability-management processes and enhance our liquidity position prior to Praxia bank’s full launch in Greece. The overwhelming success of this relationship highlights our ability to integrate innovative best-in-class fintech operators onto our digital platform. And we will continuously scan the fintech landscape for suitable parties to partner with as we expand our service and product footprints. By attracting new partnerships into our ecosystem, Praxia will be at the vanguard to bring modern financial services to the Greek market.
What is the most significant way in which Praxia bank’s digital offering is different from that of its competitors?
The Greek banking landscape is evolving, and we are particularly excited to play an important role in defining what a modern bank will look like in Greece. As the first new Greek bank to emerge from the Greek crisis, we have the benefit of building a bank from scratch that specifically meets the expressed needs of the retail and SME customer base in Greece. By offering a bank that is both digital in its construction and human in its design, we are able to provide our customers with the simplicity, accessibility and suitability of products and services they want with the safety and security they need.
To accomplish this, we have designed our digital offering with the following set of principles:
- Remove as much friction as possible from the customers’ interactions with the bank, and aim to deliver a seamless, simple and direct banking experience;
- Be transparent and empathetic so as to build trust with customers; focus on exceeding their expectations, and showcase our commitment to service excellence;
- Provide a team of professionals with knowledge and experience from different industries to support our customers’ needs; assist them to manage their money in the context of their day-to-day lives and reach informed decisions about their financial choices;
- Be mobile-first, taking full advantage of mobile’s ability to offer personalized and in-context experiences.
You began your banking career at several of the world’s biggest investment banks, including Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse. What do you consider to be the biggest difference in culture and/or core values between such firms and Praxia bank?
I started my career in London in the mid-1990s in investment banking, holding positions in bulge-bracket firms. Investment banking was a steep learning curve for me: to succeed, you need to maintain a flexible mindset, be empathetic to client needs, stay focused on the issues that truly matter and remain fully committed to the job at hand. Bottom line is, I learned that just about anything is possible, and I have endeavoured to integrate many of these qualities learned during this period into Praxia bank’s DNA.
That said, Praxia bank is, of course, quite different from big investment banks, especially given our retail and SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) customer base operating from a digital platform versus the predominately institutional and wholesale client base of investment banks. And, therefore, unlike my experiences in investment banking, we have expressly designed our bank around a client-centric model that places our clients, associates and partners at the centre of our product-and-service platform.
You have been the chief executive officer of Praxia bank since April 2018—and since August 2017 under its former name, Credicom Consumer Finance Bank. What do you consider to have been your toughest challenge during this time? And what has been your proudest accomplishment?
In my experience, building a new bank from the ground up is no easy task, nor without unforeseen challenges along the way. Our journey in building Praxia bank has been no different. However, we have always found a way to move forward and achieve the next step in our journey. We are constantly evolving: every day, we grow and create something new. It is a process that requires a flexible mindset, agility, systematic effort and adaptability, and ultimately it has enabled us to launch the first digital bank in Greece. Of course, there is still a long way to go, and exciting times ahead, but I could not be prouder of all of the hard work and dedication of our team of talented professionals, who have stood up to the challenge and contributed to turning our vision into reality, getting us to where we are today. The talent and diversified skills of the Praxia team ensure our continuous success.
The last few years have seen Greece return to positive economic growth. Do you expect this growth to continue? And do you believe Praxia is ideally positioned to capitalise on this growth?
Greece has experienced a prolonged disinvestment period that has resulted in businesses and households alike postponing their expenditures to whenever confidence returns. With Greece’s return to positive growth, companies and consumers will gradually go back to their normal investment and consumption patterns. This will further be facilitated by increased activity in the tourism sector and the newly elected government’s policies, focusing on attracting foreign direct investment into the country. Hence, we expect to see an overall boost in economic activity across all sectors and for all market participants and a return of basic economic indicators to pre-crisis levels over the next few years. We can only be optimistic about the times ahead.
We, as a bank, want to be part of this change. Not only by becoming a player in the digital transformation of the Greek banking system that is underway but also by facilitating the growth of SMEs, which constitute a vital pillar of the Greek economy. We aspire to do so through our client-centric model and financing products that can cater to the needs of Greek SMEs, unlock their potential and fuel their business growth.
What do you consider to be Praxia’s biggest challenge over the next 12 to 18 months?
Following a period of notable achievements in our journey towards creating the first digital bank in Greece, our official launch is underway. This will be just the beginning and a milestone in the progress we wish to bring to the Greek banking industry through our products and services. In the coming year, we expect to further strengthen our position, enhance our offering and solidify our relations with Greek customers, becoming a partner and a force of growth for them—and with them.
It looks as if exciting times are ahead for Praxia bank and its customers. Thank you again for your time today, Ms. Sakellariou.