AIK Banka, today headquartered in Belgrade, Serbia, has been serving clients’ financial needs for nearly half a century, aiming to be their first choice for banking products and services. The bank has experienced several changes over the years since its beginnings in 1976 as the internal bank of the Agro Industrial Combine Niš before receiving its licence from the National Bank of Yugoslavia in 1993. AIK Banka has grown organically and through acquisitions, extending its reach into other markets in Central and Eastern Europe. It was the first Serbian bank to broach the European Union market by acquiring Slovenia’s Gorenjska banka. AIK Banka’s most recent acquisition was Sberbank Srbija, finalised earlier this year. Today, the bank easily falls among the country’s top 10, widely recognised as a market leader—especially in inventive rollouts—with a strategic goal to be one of the region’s leading banking groups.
Much of its organic growth can be attributed to its determination to be “the bank of innovative banking products and services, open 24/7”. Committed to listening to its customers and fulfilling their financial needs and business requirements, AIK Banka offers as much choice as is feasible and has introduced several applications that customers can access whenever and wherever they need them through mobile and online channels. The bank aims to eliminate the wait as much as possible by providing its products and services speedily but safely, maximising the user experience “anytime, anywhere”. Acutely aware of its responsibility to protect its clients’ assets, the bank avoids risky investments and ensures all of its activities are backed by adequate capital.
As the Chairperson of the Board of Directors, Ms. Jelena Galić, explains, “We listen carefully to the needs of our clients when creating services and products because we’re all about building long-term relationships and partnerships by supporting people in creating their futures, which is our mission.”
AIK Banka highly values its talented staff, whom it regards as its “greatest capital”. The bank welcomes customers and staff to “the family of successful people so that we can build a better future together!” This innovative bank has been acknowledged for its hard work and achievements by receiving awards and prizes from recognised agencies, such as the European Business Council (EBC).
International Banker recently had the opportunity to learn more about AIK Banka’s recent progress by speaking with Ms. Jelena Galić, Chairperson of the Board of Directors.
Ms. Galić, welcome, and thank you for being with us today….
AIK Banka has developed a housing-loan process that requires only one appointment with the bank for loan-contract signing, which is a major leap forward for the bank compared to your previous offerings in this line. What role has automation and/or digitalisation played in bringing this new process to fruition?
More than five years ago, AIK Banka began implementing the digitalisation process. This was done primarily by preparing a system capable of supporting coming technological advancements and automating simple processes. The implementation of more complex digital solutions began once regulations made this possible by adjusting existing legal frameworks to new trends. When this moment arrived, we were ready, allowing us to become market leaders in terms of the numerous banking services available in an online environment. One example is the housing loan we offer, disbursed with a single visit to the bank for contract signing. This gives our clients the opportunity to comfortably go through one of the most stressful situations, such as buying a first home, all while receiving the full support of our advisors with each step of the process without wasting time on numerous appointments at the bank.
Given that in Serbia, the average time it takes from the moment the application is sent until loan approval and disbursement is one to two months, but with us, this process is possible to complete in just 10 days, it is evident that our process efficiency is exceptional and it improves customer-satisfaction levels. By introducing such products, we remain steadfast along our strategic path toward digital transformation. We continue to provide our clients with a better user experience and remain true to our vision to stand out and be their “bank of first choice” anytime, anywhere.
How have AIK Banka’s recent investments in digital banking helped to advance the quality of its relationships with its clients? What are some key specific ways the bank’s relationship managers leverage digital tools to enhance customer relationships?
The significant investments that AIK Banka has made in digital banking over the recent period have profoundly contributed to improving our clients’ user experiences and our work processes. We have automated operational activities so that our employees can focus their full attention on their roles as financial advisors. AIK Banka clients are now able to open a package account without having to visit the bank; they can take out a loan, apply for a credit or debit card, or apply for an overdraft; they can deposit their savings into various forms of term deposits—all within an online environment in just minutes.
Further, our clients have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (24/7) self-service zones available to them where they can withdraw or deposit funds (in Serbian dinar or euro), pay bills or credit-card instalments; legal entities can make their daily deposits 24/7 without having to queue, and these funds are credited to their accounts quickly.
All of the above has resulted in stronger customer relationships; the bank is no longer simply a transaction channel our clients use, but rather, we have become a true partner and advisor, which has strengthened the mutual trust between our clients and us and increased client loyalty.
AIK Banka diligently keeps track of technological developments, all with the aim of further growth. In the upcoming period, we will continue to invest in data analysis and processing, which will enable us to provide even more personalised services to our clients.
In June 2022, the bank introduced AIK Online Biznis (eBanking) and AIK mBank Biznis (mBanking) applications, where a qualified Halcom Cloud Certificate is used as a means of authentication and payment verification on both platforms. Can you briefly explain the purpose and benefit of this certificate? And how do these applications improve what you were offering previously?
AIK Banka was the first bank on the market to implement this innovative technological solution, through which clients who use AIK Online Biznis (eBanking) and AIK mBank Biznis (mBanking) applications can use the Halcom Cloud Certificate to authenticate and verify payments on both platforms.
The AIK Online Biznis app doesn’t require installation or a specific internet browser. It works on Windows and Mac operating systems and through all well-known search engines (Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, etc.). The only thing the client needs to do is activate the Halcom ONE mobile app (Android or iOS). Once this application is active, the client’s Halcom Cloud Certificate is automatically activated. As far as our clients are concerned, this gives them maximum security while maintaining flexibility, as well as less expensive payment orders and the possibility of performing RSD (Serbian dinar) and FX (foreign exchange) payment operations, on their mobile app, too.
You previously mentioned that besides transactional services, the bank wanted to automate the sales of products and make them available via online channels, along with numerous background services and processes related to everyday banking operations. How are you progressing with this particular objective? And does it remain a priority for the bank?
Our onboarding process has already gained recognition in the market as a top-quality solution that clients are using with greater frequency. With each passing month, we have recorded growth in sales of online products, which confirms that this channel provides both a quality and user-friendly solution that offers a well-designed range of products in high demand in the domestic market.
Through the online onboarding process, we make available a wide range of banking products unique to the market: Package Account, Cash Loan, Refinancing Loan, Debit and Credit Cards, Account Overdraft, Vista Savings (Sight Deposit) and Term Deposit with three different savings models available.
We listen carefully to the needs of our clients when creating services and products because we’re all about building long-term relationships and partnerships by supporting people in creating their futures, which is our mission. The concept of online banking stems from our clients’ needs for banking services to be available when and where it is most convenient for them. That is why we remain committed to our digital strategy and focus on enhancing customers’ online banking experiences by prioritising investments in technological solutions that will enable us to become a regionally recognised digital brand.
Can you speak to the effectiveness of automation and digitalisation in freeing up your staff and advisors from mundane operational tasks, thus providing them with more time to focus on higher-value work?
Digitalisation’s benefits are felt by both our clients and our staff alike. Clients receive more convenient and faster services and greater flexibility because they are not limited to our branches’ working hours and locations, and employees are no longer tasked with mundane tasks. They focus on finding the best banking solutions adapted to suit each individual client’s lifestyle and real financial needs and offering fully personalised products and the best possible user experience.
If I am not mistaken, AIK Banka had a CAR (capital adequacy ratio) of 20.37 percent as of the end of 2021, which is well above regulatory requirements. To what main factors do you attribute such a strong capital position?
AIK Banka has always been strongly capitalised for several reasons. In the first place, we are recognised as a trustworthy savings bank, and we have become one as a result of our stability, which has endured various crises throughout the time that we have been in operation. Besides this, our strong equity position enables our sound basis for sustainable growth, either organically or through the acquisitions we have proceeded on so far. High capital also signals that a bank is shrewdly managed and suggests that it harbours the potential for strong growth, which corresponds to our long-term strategy and vision—to become one of the strongest banking groups in the CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) region.
In late February, AIK Banka finalised its acquisition of Sberbank Serbia. What have been some of the benefits and efficiency gains you have noticed this year as a direct result of this acquisition?
On the one hand, the acquisition has been the finalisation of a long-term process of negotiation and regulatory checks. And on the other hand, it marks the start of a complex process of integrating two systems. In addition to top management—for whom the acquisition is a vital milestone—for the personnel working in both systems, this is the start of getting to know the other system, followed by a period of learning and adaptation. Any acquisition carries certain benefits and certain shortcomings or disadvantages, while the main challenge and objective are always to maximise the positives. The main benefit we felt was the synergy of people and ideas. The exchange of ideas and the creation of new processes, products and user experiences will increase efficiency as they create an innovative climate that brings with it the automation of business operations and an increased focus on advisory roles. Also, a larger base of satisfied clients will provide a stronger foundation for the further growth we strive to achieve.
As we move into the post-pandemic era, what do you consider the most profound permanent change that has transpired at the bank compared with before the outbreak of the virus? And are you currently satisfied with the bank’s preparedness for operating in a post-pandemic environment?
One response to the challenges of the post-pandemic “new normal”, which led to fundamental changes in the ways people live and work, was increased digitalisation in all segments. It was the banks, alongside the telecommunications operators, that were the first to lead here, even before the onset of the “new circumstances”, in providing online services to clients in an effort to resist competition stemming from growing fintech (financial technology) companies and large global providers (GAFA: Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon).
Banks, by the nature of their activities, mostly lean on large numbers of clients, and the COVID crisis “compelled” banks to become much closer to their clients at all times and everywhere, regardless of where the branch network operated. I think the banking sector was and still is one of the leaders in the digital transformation and automation of processes and operations overall. Creating E2E (end-to-end) automated and digitalised processes has drastically reduced the time required to respond to the financial-service needs of our clients, facilitated back-office operations and eliminated inequalities in working with clients.
What is the single most significant target for AIK Banka over the coming 12 to 18 months? And how do you intend to achieve it?
We are endlessly setting ambitious targets for ourselves and high standards for our service offerings, which makes each successive year more dynamic than the last, but more demanding as well. Our plans for the future will be focused on launching new products, further digitalisation and automation, and further growth of the business. We plan to do this both organically, through new client acquisition, and by keeping on top of sound opportunities for new non-organic expansion. This will help us achieve our strategic goal of becoming one of the leading banking groups in the region and fulfilling our vision to make a difference and become our customers’ first-choice bank.
AIK Banka appears to be doing all it can to be the bank of first choice for its customers. Thank you for speaking with me today, Ms. Galić.