Interview with Mr. Nikoletopoulos, CEO, Stopanska banka AD - Skopje
Diomidis Nikoletopoulos, CEO, Stopanska banka AD - Skopje
We are all together! - Stopanska Banka is doing what it knows best, supporting the economy, its’ people and its’ companies!
(published by Kapital Media Group, on www.kapital.mk, on 02.04.2020)
Question: How do you see the current situation and crisis, what is your response as a Bank and what message do you wish to send?
We are in the first ever pandemic in the modern times with such significant ramifications and all of us are worried, about our health, our lives, our dear ones, the jobs, businesses and our future in general. In such times, in my opinion the country has been doing whatever was possible to suppress the growth of infected individuals and clusters. The implemented measures include significant movement restrictions, economic measures and even legal measures and as a result, our lives changed dramatically. However, we must understand that a lot are at stake and therefore we must be disciplined, patient and tolerant, hoping that we will overcome the crisis soon and we will get back to normal.
With all of these major shifts in behavior and the effects on the economy, I am proud to say that Stopanska banka AD – Skopje, adjusted quickly and proactively, taking measures to protect employees, clients and suppliers, educating and informing transparently its clients and most importantly remained open for business activities. Because, even when everything else stops, money does not. People still need money because they need food, medicine, they have plans that were left half executed and need to complete them… they continue living their lives and our job is to be by their side and help them along the way. That’s why banks, groceries, pharmacies, telecom and electricity are the key businesses that must remain open throughout every type of crisis, it is crucial to maintain the minimum requirements for continuity of the life of our citizen.
The most important activities the Bank has done as part of its plan for business continuity in extreme situations, was to have the branches open for transactions (even in quarantined cities like Debar), to have ATMs functional (despite the fact that the cash supply is more difficult and many locations are closed off for access) and to apply special working hours for the pensioners, by opening all the branches over the weekend in order to reduce crowds.
However, we do not stop here, as the Bank makes sure clients turn towards our 24/7 alternative channels by promoting them and educating clients how easy and safe it is to perform basic banking transactions from home, staying safe from crowds and unnecessary interactions. Actually, digitalization now will happen sooner than expected because of these dire times. Stopanska banka also has a unique 24/7 Contact center which is reinforced now because of the increased incoming contacts, and it works via telephone and e-mail providing assistance for retail clients and the significant merchant network we cooperate with.
Question: What are you doing specifically for your clients using lending products?
Realizing that the crisis would have severe implications on the economy, there were a lot of discussions and different approaches suggested by banks and institutions. You know that we don’t have a moratorium of debts repayment in the country and that was one more reason the banks had to respond immediately with solutions that could effectively address the issue.
Therefore, we undertook many initiatives and finally all banks agreed, especially the big ones, to have the same constructive approach, giving a 6 months postponement of payments across the board for all individuals and on a big scale for the companies. We believe the measure is more than enough to help all clients to overcome the period in best possible way.
These introduced measures comply with the decision of the Central Bank to amend the regulation regarding the risk management, and the Decree with the force of law by the Government of North Macedonia. These changes were adopted in order to support the banks to implement the NBRNM measures in the promptest and most efficient manner, without the need not sign documents/contracts, visit notaries or branches.
Question: Yes, but all banks say the interest will continue to be calculated.
I understand that many clients have asked about that, although everyone knows and admits that the banks in the country have showed a very high level of responsibility. I would like to explain that there is no other way than that, because funds/money have cost and since we calculate interest for the deposits, we must do the same for the loans. If we stop, it will be of no help to anyone, and it is out of any monetary and banking logic. Interest differentiation is the reason that banks exist and through this income, the capital position of the banks is safeguarded, allowing the banks to continue lending to the economy.
Question: What are the main issues the Bank will face in the midterm? What is happening with the deposits and the liquidity in general?
The first priority always, and even most importantly during the crises, is banks and the whole system to be liquid! The liquidity of the banking system is on a very high level, much higher than the same after the post- crisis period in 2008 -2009, when the banking sector faced significant deposit drain, in some periods occurred within 3 - 4 months. It is obvious that this unprecedented crisis might be more severe, with all regular flows of funds globally and domestically significantly decreased and decelerated.
However, the deposits and the available liquid funds and buffers of Stopanska Banka are sufficient to cover the needs of the clients. Its liquidity is higher than the required levels, and the structure of the liquid assets is consisted of funds that can be easily converted to cash, being used immediately by the system.
Of course, later on, after the crisis, the challenge will be how to regulate the majority of the loans that are now being put on hold and how to avoid increasing the NPLs, putting consequently a pressure for additional capital. As mentioned, the NBRSM, in accordance with the EU banks’ approach, has changed the regulation for the credit risk, allowing the banks to proceed with restructurings, without those loans to be consider as NPLs. We believe the authorities will proceed by providing gateways and to ensure that the economy as a whole, not only to recover from the crisis, but to exploit its potential to recuperate and to grow again.
Question: Stopanska Banka is well known for its corporate responsibility activities. What you have done especially during this crisis?
As a responsible corporate citizen, we have proven our corporate social responsibility many times in the past, the same approach we have implemented during this crisis. The Bank was among the first companies to approach the Ministry of Health, donating a valuable piece of equipment to support artificial breathing for recovering patients at the Clinic for infectious disease. We have also taken a decision to proceed with a second big donation of several medical devices, needed urgently by the medical staff and altogether, the amount of 150.000eur will be disbursed in this phase.
The donation is our form of gratitude, which I wish to express from all our employees and our shareholders to the medical community – to all the doctors, nurses, laboratory specialists and the entire support staff. We understand and appreciate all the sacrifices they do during this period and all of us stand on their side. It is a kind if support we have been doing for years, supporting the hospitals and helping the patients.
Saying about responsibility, I am taking also the opportunity to emphasize that all the economic measures are aimed in helping the ones (individuals and companies) which are most affected by the crisis, although the measures are provided across the board. Therefore, we emphatically ask all the ones that have not been hit by the crisis and are able to repay their obligations, to do it regularly, and to show their appropriate level of responsibility and solidarity expected by everyone this time. Otherwise the measures aimed at relieving the weak, might not have the expected positive impact in order to overcome the crisis.
Question: How does your team, your employees handle the corona outbreak?
I am very grateful for the dedication our staff has shown, working remotely from home, with their kids home, with restrictions in movement, but I am especially proud of our branch employees which are our brand guardians at the moment. They work in strenuous conditions, they must protect themselves following the provided guidance and safety measures to protect general public health, they also must protect the clients and help them each day, teach them to use alternative channels and at the same time execute their duties impeccably.
In order to provide business continuity process in the extraordinary circumstances, it is not only important to organize the human capital to provide necessary operations support, but to adjust the technology in order to support the new requirements.
Question: What would you say about the long term?
For the first time in modern history, the world is unable to plan weeks ahead, let alone months or years/decades. When even New York “the city that never sleeps” is shut down, who is to say with certainty what lies ahead.
In my opinion, each crisis has left a mark, however people manage to overcome it and make something good out of it. We may see rise of new business ideas and models, small business thriving, e-commerce and alternative channels growing, we might see reduced use of cash, which in turn might reduce the gray economy. We will preserve the nature more and will value it more in the future. We will focus on family and the importance of the qualitative relationships. The entire education system will change using technology and remote connectivity and these past couple of weeks have taught us that we can organize better ourselves, working from home, not needed necessarily to be at the office.
We must be optimistic, to be confident that the crisis will be effectively overcome, however, each one of us must do its part in the process to get back to normal. Regarding the bank, it will continue normally its operations, supporting the clients and the community, being transparent and open and looking forward to coming back to normal.
Finally, I would like to ensure everyone that Stopanska banka safeguards their deposits, continue providing favorable terms for lending products, continue providing the financial support and guidance wherever and whenever is needed and helps the best possible way the businesses to survive, remaining as always on the side of our community.