homepage_name! > Editions > Number 131 > Interview - Slavica Pavlovic

Slavica Pavlović, President of the Executive Board of Eurobank

It is early to estimate the effects of the crisis

The banking sector will continue supporting the economy and citizens after the pandemic

The Covid-19 disease pandemic has hit the entire world. It is of utmost importance to demonstrate solidarity and help our healthcare system provide capacities for the admission and treatment of all patients and ensure the safety of medical workers who shoulder the heaviest burden of the fight against the pandemic. The banking sector, both the Association of Serbian Banks and individual banks, got involved right away and donated significant funds for the purchase of medical equipment. Eurobank got in touch with UNICEF instantly and donated 6 million dinars for the purchase of the necessary medical equipment. We also continued some regular activities, such as support to the “Lice u lice” magazine, and in the days that follow, we will consider additional ways in which our bank can contribute to this joint struggle of all Serbian citizens. Of course, the bank supports all individual activities of its employees who promote responsible social behavior, solidarity, and help the healthcare system.

1.It has been more than a month since the introduction of the state of emergency. To what extent do these extraordinary circumstances reflect on the operation of the banking system?

There is no doubt that the state of the emergency and the measures that have been put into effect have had a manifold impact on society and the economy, and thus on the banking sector. Eurobank’s priority in these extraordinary circumstances is to be a responsible employer, which primarily means the protection of our employees and their families, but also providing stability of operations by enabling the bank’s clients to use all needed products and services seamlessly. In these new circumstances, banks are also classified as key infrastructure, which is why we have invested additional effort into providing not only the seamless operation of our network of branch offices but also into implementing the measures adopted by the National Bank of Serbia and the Government of the Republic of Serbia as efficiently as possible. Here I am primarily referring to activities related to the payment of pensions to our elderly citizens, the implementation of a moratorium, and defining and implementing a guarantee scheme for crediting small and medium enterprises.

2.What do you think about the measures adopted by the Government related to the operation of banks? According to your experience, how important are the Government measures, primarily the moratorium, for clients?

I support the measures of the Government of the Republic of Serbia that are focused on preserving the economy in these extraordinary circumstances. It is crucial that the Government recognized the potential impact of these new circumstances on society and the economy in a timely manner and reacted with a comprehensive set of measures that will help entrepreneurs and employers at this time when their activities are significantly reduced or have completely stopped.

We can notice a significant reduction in all activities and the amount of money in circulation, which is why it is important to enable clients to repurpose the funds they would normally use to repay bank loans and invest them into their own activities. I think that the moratorium is a good measure for our citizens and the economy because it will provide the necessary liquid assets in this dire situation. Even though this measure freezes a significant share of liquidity at the level of the banking sector, it should be highlighted that the banking sector is stable and liquid. Of course, the priority for all of us is to help and support the survival of the economy.

3.Employees in branch offices are most exposed to the risk of infection. Which measures have you undertaken to protect your employees, and how have you organized your business activities?

Even before the introduction of the state of emergency, Eurobank had been implementing measures of enhanced hygiene of the office space and increased caution. At the moment, in all our office spaces, especially in branch offices where our team members are at the highest level of exposure, we are implementing all necessary protection measures in accordance with official recommendations and instructions from competent institutions, including the regular disinfection of the office space and ATMs, the mandatory use of face masks for employees, the installation of protective barriers, the disinfection of footwear before entering a branch office, a ban on multiple persons entering the space at the same time and other preventive activities. Having in mind that the working hours of branch offices are shorter, we have also introduced work in shifts. As far as other team members are concerned, almost all of our employees have been reoriented to working from home, except for a minimal number of our colleagues in the head office whose presence is necessary because of the nature of their tasks. This kind of reorganization enabled the bank to react in a timely and adequate manner in this period of increased banking activity during the state of emergency.

4.Pensioners are offered several options for payment of their pensions. To what extent does such a decision help our elderly citizens?

Our elderly citizens are, unfortunately, among the most vulnerable in the population during these pandemic circumstances. In these circumstances, when their movement is restricted for health and safety reasons, it is important to allow them seamless access to funds that they, as well as all others, need during this period. Our elderly citizens are most commonly used to traditional ways of using banking services, which often means going to a branch office. In these circumstances, this would, I believe, be a huge concern for them. The different options for the payment of pensions and withdrawal of funds are one of the ways to help our elderly citizens overcome the current situation as safely as possible, without having to worry about how and when their pensions will be available to them.

5.Before the pandemic, Eurobank was one of the first banks to introduce instant payments using IPS QR codes. Do you think this market is ready for such innovations?

Payments using IPS QR codes are a completely free, safe, and simple way of payment that requires the single thing we always have with us—our mobile phone. Eurobank was among the first banks on the market to allow its users to make instant payments at points of sale and pay bills that have an IPS QR code printed on them, through its improved mobile banking application. Even though this form of payment has been introduced recently, we are very satisfied with the interest of our clients. The service was introduced right before the pandemic, which slowed down the increase in the number of retailers who accept IPS QR payments. However, the pandemic has, on the other hand, led to a lot of interest in mobile banking services, even among those people who were distrustful of digital banking. We have a common task in front of us to continue educating our clients further and promoting all types of cashless payments. We have lots of positive examples in the world of local markets showing the excellent acceptance of mobile payments based on QR codes, while some countries find it more difficult to reduce the use of cash to a minimum or eliminate it completely. It is important to note that the instant payment system introduced by the National Bank of Serbia is in complete accordance with the standards of the European Union, where this efficient payment-operations system is still in its implementation stage.

6.Generally, how important is the digital transformation of operations for the organization of business activities?

Digitalization is a prerequisite for the further development and survival of society. If some people thought digitalization was a faddish word suddenly used by everyone in almost all segments of the economy and the society, the state of emergency caused by the pandemic has shown that digitalization is a key factor today, something that is not only useful and good but is also necessary to society and the state. For example, thanks to digitalization, we can work from home, which is crucial in these conditions brought about by the state of emergency, in order to provide the seamless functioning and progress of business activities. That is also not limited to the IT and the banking sector; it also includes all other organizations and state administration whose services are available to citizens precisely thanks to digital platforms. The advantages of digitalization are numerous, starting from higher efficiency of processes and access to information. I believe that it will become more present here in the future as a model for the organization of work.

7.To what extent are you able to be socially responsible in this new situation?

The Covid-19 disease pandemic has hit the entire world. It is of utmost importance to demonstrate solidarity and help our healthcare system provide capacities for admission and the treatment of all patients and ensure the safety of medical workers who shoulder the heaviest burden of the fight against the pandemic. The banking sector, both the Association of Serbian Banks and individual banks, got involved right away and donated significant funds for the purchase of medical equipment. Eurobank got in touch with UNICEF instantly and donated 6 million dinars for the purchase of the necessary medical equipment. We also continued some regular activities, such as support to the “Lice u lice” magazine, and in the days that follow, we will consider additional ways in which our bank can contribute to this joint struggle of all Serbian citizens. Of course, the bank supports all individual activities of its employees who promote responsible social behavior, solidarity, and help to the healthcare system.

8.Estimates that a strong recession will follow after the pandemic are becoming more vocal. How is the banking sector preparing for what is about to follow, and do you expect changes in the banking system, both locally and globally? Do you think that the global pandemic will change clients’ habits?

At the moment when the pandemic is in its full swing in a huge number of countries across the world, it might be too early to say how far-reaching the effects of this crisis will be, both globally and in terms of our country’s economy. There is no doubt that adverse effects on the economy are expected, primarily as a consequence of the standstill in many activities. Consequently, banking operations will also undergo some changes because banks are also a part of the economy, and it is inevitable that the trends in the economy reflect on the operations of the banking sector. The task of the banking sector in the upcoming period is to help the economy recover and continue developing as quickly as possible. I have already mentioned the importance of the measures adopted by the Government of the Republic of Serbia. A guarantee scheme has been agreed on, which is also an important first step in the recovery process. I think that a period of great challenges is ahead of all of us, but at the same time, I would like to highlight the readiness and seriousness of all market participants to tackle those challenges. In addition, the pandemic will lead to some, as it might seem, permanent changes in the everyday habits of all of us, so we expect that banking operations will have to adapt to our clients’ new requirements, which will affect the offer of products and services.

9.Do you consider that some of the temporarily introduced measures will become permanent after the pandemic, as regular banking services?

The pandemic and the introduction of the state of emergency have led to the reorganization of a number of activities to enable the seamless operation of the bank and the provision of services to our clients. After the situation stabilizes, we will certainly reconsider our activities, the way we provide services, and the product offering, precisely in light of the organizational solutions and activities during the pandemic. We can already discern that some activities that have been implemented so far can be rationalized and made more efficient. Of course, as I have already said, we also expect that clients’ habits will change, which will also have an effect on the range of the bank’s products and services. The pandemic has set a number of challenges in front of all of us, but I believe that we have learned important lessons that will help us improve our operations and the quality of products and services.

10.Can this current mode of operation (working from home, short working hours) also have some positive sides to it?

This situation has shown that the solutions that we used to think are hard to implement or have security risks can still be successfully implemented, while fully maintaining the quality and security of operations. We believe that some processes and modes of operation that were introduced during the state of emergency will prove to be very productive in regular operating conditions. For example, one of the things that we certainly plan to keep is the option of working from home.

11.Can this pandemic still bring us something positive (free online content, courses, training...)?

The willingness of people and organizations from different fields of culture, science, and art to show solidarity in these challenging times and provide access to various types of content is indeed one of the bright moments in the crisis caused by the pandemic. The amount of free content that has been made available to people around the world is really surprising, and I am especially happy because our cultural institutions have also recognized the value and importance of this type of content. What I personally find especially interesting are online courses in different fields intended for different age groups, great cultural and art content both on television and online platforms, for example, virtual tours through museums, concerts, theatre plays for children and adults.

12.Finally, to what extent are you managing to organize your private time? Are you one of those people whose day just flies by while balancing private and work commitments?

Since I am one of those people who moved their work commitments from the office to their home during the state of emergency, it seems that the day has become shorter. I am working from home, and the intensity of work commitments is not lower, but at the same time, now there are family commitments, especially with a lively schoolboy who has a lot of free time on his hands. When I am not at the computer or in video or telephone meetings, there is housework, grocery shopping, keeping track of school programs, and assignments—all of it being a mix now. It can, however, lead to funny situations, such as my colleagues’ children unexpectedly walking in during video calls or when we hear home appliances working in the background. Also, my mother is a pensioner, so I try to help her in this new situation by doing the necessary shopping in supermarkets and pharmacies for her, while, of course, keeping a safe distance and taking all protective measures.


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