Societe Generale Expressbank Executive Officer Yann Dumontheil: Bulgaria Is Country with Bright Future
Interview with Yann Dumontheil, Executive Officer, Societe Generale Expressbank, for "International Survey: Bulgaria-France" of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) and Novinite.bg.
Do Bulgarians benefit from the variety of banking products on the market?
First of all, the banking sector in Bulgaria is developing in a very competitive environment.
With 32 banks operating in the market, it is evident that all players are trying to bring value to their customers by meeting their needs. Regarding the variety of the banking products, we can divide them in four main categories: everyday banking, loans, deposits and insurance products.
Bulgarians benefit from all of these categories, except for the insurance, which still has a potential to develop as a more widely used product.
What are the most preferred banking products of Societe Generale Expressbank?
Our consumer loan Expresso has been successful for more than twelve years and I am pleased to say that 1/3 of our customers are using it.
It was the first loan offer introduced without collateral and after so many years, it still competitive.
More generally, cards and their usage are growing well and we know already that the need of cash will gradually decrease in our daily life.
This is a regular trend that we can observe in Western Europe for obvious reasons. First of all, cost: it is expensive to collect all this money and secondly, security purpose. In parallel, the usage of remote banking products is also growing. Different deposits products enjoy bigger popularity as well.
To what extent do bank clients pay attention to details?
This is an interesting question. A detail for someone could be completely different for somebody else. I often say that we, as bankers, have a very important role to play. We are the persons with the expertise and our duty is to deliver it to the customer in the right manner. We have to advise our customer and doing so, to explain the main characteristics of our offer.
In Societe Generale Expressbank, building long-term relationships with our customers is our main focus. Our common interest is to give them the right advice and to fight for their satisfaction day after day.
What are the most important elements that must be observed when comparing two bank products?
People would say "the price" or "the interest rates" for loans and deposits. It is true that this is the first thing people look for as this is easy to compare.
However, although price is an important component of a product, it is not the only one. For example, the security that the product gives also matters to a great extent.
Let me give a simple example with our VPay card. When we decided to launch this product, it was obvious that it will offer the highest level of security, being protected against skimming cases. We have also decided to integrate the purchase protection into the product, the first offer of the kind in Bulgaria. The card is secured and all goods bought with it are protected as well. I remember that one of our customers was waiting for his card before buying their flat screen TV!
Is there a product you have developed, but was not accepted well by the people? And vice versa – have you been surprised by high interest?
When I joined the bank in Bulgaria in 2008, we were ready to launch a new product - a mix of saving and insurance product and guarantees that kids will have enough money for studies, in case of specific unfavorable circumstances related to the parents. Although it was a good product, it was a bit specific (savings and life insurance) and was introduced at a time of economic challenges.
Aside from this single case, I am very pleased to say that all our products that we introduced lately had a huge commercial success as "Karta za vseki" (cards design) or our new Internet banking platform. The reasons explaining these good results are simple: first, listening to our customers' needs, and second, a lot of team work inside the Bank. We perform customer satisfaction surveys every year and this helps us to define what should be our priorities. In the future, we will further develop this approach to actively engage our clients in our products' development.
You are a Frenchman. What makes the biggest impression on the comparison between the Bulgarian and French customers of bank products?
I will be extremely honest: the prices. The prices of banking products are very attractive in Bulgaria even compared with the average salary in the two countries. The access to banking services in Bulgaria is really cheap, which is a very good point. Banks are part of the economy and they have to play an important role. They need to collect deposits to be able to finance investments for individuals and companies, and they have to manage money flows. An easy access to the Bank industry supports strongly the economy.
Coming back on bank products, the offer in term of deposits is more complex in France, with companies' shares and investment funds. Often, this is due to tax reasons, as some of the products benefit of reduced taxes. Finally, I consider that Bulgarians do not use the full potential of insurance products to protect them against randomness of life. I am certain that people will look for more certainty in the future but it will take time to move in this direction.
Is there a banking product in France that you want to incorporate in our market? If yes –do you plan such thing in the near future?
There is always the challenge ahead of us as to what kind of new products and services could be developed in Bulgaria. Our benchmark is not only France, but also other countries with a well-developed bank industry, such as North America. My conclusion could be summarized in two words: quality and innovation. Quality comes first, as it is the best way to increase the loyalty of our customers. Innovation comes next: the market and the world are moving faster than ever and we need to adapt our business to this new environment.
Does Bulgaria have a lot to catch up with Western Europe?
I don't think so. One of the main advantages of Bulgaria compared to other countries in Western Europe is the agility of the market. We have been paying our parking fee in Bulgaria through cell phone for years, while this is just coming in France right now. Even here, the time to market is faster and I am sure that some development including new technologies will be more easily implemented in Bulgaria, compared to other countries.
Are you optimistic about the economic development of Bulgaria and the region?
This is a key question and you could be sure that being bankers, we are paying specific attention to the economic trends. The economic development of Bulgaria is deeply linked with other counties that face difficulties right now. In a global world, a country cannot be a single player.
For sure, the situation will remain complicated in Europe over the next few years. Some countries had overused their access to the lending system and now they have to take the consequences. Unfortunately, this stage of correction is painful and we should pay a lot of attention to people who face difficulty due to the high level of unemployment.
Regarding Bulgaria – I often say that this is a country with a bright future - with an extremely stable currency and political system, solid economic indicators and level of the public debt, which is among the lowest ones in European Union.
There are also a lot of natural assets, such as the quantity of fertile lands and fresh water which, you could be sure will have a great value in future. One remark as a conclusion: Bulgaria deserves a bigger population: there should be more babies born.
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