Fibank: More jolts in Bulgaria’s banking system unlikely in near future

By Borislava Andreevska

First Investment Bank (Fibank) aspires to continue to be one of the best banks in Bulgaria, recognised as a rapidly growing, innovative, customer-oriented bank, offering outstanding products and services to its customers, ensuring excellent careers for its employees, and contributing to the community. The bank shall continue to develop high-technological solutions providing its customers with opportunities for banking from any place around the world at any time.

Vasil Hristov, Chief Executive Officer of Fibank

Vasil Hristov,
Chief Executive Officer of Fibank

The Bulgarian banking system, Fibank included, faced serious challenges in mid-2014 as one bank was put under special supervision by the central bank, while Fibank suffered a run on deposits prompted by ill-intentioned rumours. Do you think the measures that were taken to stabilise the banking system were ad-equate, and what else can be done? Is there a risk of similar shocks being repeated in the near future?

Bulgaria’s banking system, Fibank included, went through a real stress test after one bank was placed under special supervision. Fibank was the target of a criminal attack and ill-intentioned rumours at a time of hyper-sensitivity to the operation of all of the country’s institutions. Fibank, and the banking sector in general, demonstrated unequivocally with its calm and mature behaviour that it is stable, well-capitalised and has strong liquidity, keeping the confidence of its depositors. Fibank, as a rule, maintains high cash liquidity and that allowed it to pass this stress test. The European Commission and the competent Bulgarian authorities have described the attack against Fibank, which was also an attack against the entire banking system, as a criminal act, caused by factors external to the bank.

Anyone can see that two months after the attack against the banks, customers’ confidence in the banking system has been re-stored and both the banks and their clients are banking as usual. I thus believe that the measures that were taken were adequate. Our society now is better informed about the significance of the banking system for the functioning of a country’s sovereignty, and that banks should be used by everyone for banking purposes only. For this reason I do not think that such a situation could happen again in the near future.

Does Fibank plan further steps to regain its customers’ confidence?

Fibank has a very close relationship with its customers which it has been building over the years, and has consequently received a number of different awards. Of these, we value the most the Bank of the Client award, which we traditionally receive. The winner of this award is named by clients in a direct online secret vote. Our clients know why they have chosen to be with us and they trust us. At the beginning of the year, Fibank acquired the former Unionbank and as a result increased its customer base. The majority of Unionbank’s clients have never before worked with Fibank and do not know what it can offer them, nor what to expect of it. Now we are getting to know each other and heading towards building a strong professional bond.

During the recent crisis in the banking system some customers made early withdrawals on their deposits. They fell for the manipulation, which is only too natural as everyone is concerned about their savings. We consider them too to be part of Fibank and we will win back their trust. We have a lot to do in this direction.

The main ingredient in the formula for a successful bank is trust; this is why we are the second largest bank in terms of individual deposits in Bulgaria after DSK Bank.

What are your expectations regarding the bank’s lending activity in 2014? What is the situation on the corporate credits segment?

It is almost the fourth quarter of 2014 now and as always this time of the year we are in the midst of an active retail lending campaign – for mortgage and consumer credits and credit cards. In addition to the challenges in the banking system, the year will also be remembered for the challenges to consumer confidence. People have been cutting down on their expenses for the purchase of a home, household appliances and goods. On the other hand, companies are also very cautious when it comes to taking decisions about investments and new expenditures. I believe next year will bring us more optimism.

What steps could be taken to boost lending? What are your expectations regarding the development of Bulgaria’s credit market in 2014?

Crediting is the litmus of a country’s economy. Predictability and calmness in Bulgaria’s politics and economy will give an impetus to investments, including lending. A stable banking system helps a country’s economic development. Banks and the economy are interdependent. Only if we have a stable banking system can we push the economy into growth, have local companies and local production develop, and open jobs.

What are the highlights of your development plan for 2015?

We are staying true to our principles, which have made us a preferred bank for people’s savings. We will continue to invest in improving the quality of our products and our customer service. We will also continue to develop our customer service platform The Right of Choice, where customers can design themselves the characteristic features of the products and services they need. Small and mid-sized enterprises will once again be in the focus of our lending activity next year. In this regard, we continue to support the Best Bulgarian Company of the Year competition, which has grown into a tradition, with a growing number of Bulgarian companies, mainly from the small and mid-sized segment, gaining confidence to participate. We will also introduce a new electronic platform for mobile banking.