Raluca Popescu is Head of Corporate and Investment Banking of UniCredit Bulbank and member of the Management Board of the bank in Bulgaria since November 2019. She is also member of the Supervisory Board of UniCredit Leasing and chair of the Management Board of UniCredit Factoring. She has been working in the banking system for more than 18 years, taking different positions within UniCredit Group – Corporate and Private Banking Branch Manager in Romania, Head of Italian Corporates Desk and Head of International Center at UniCredit Bank Romania and UniCredit Bank Hungary.
How have banking services for legal entities evolved over the past year?
One way or another, the new developments around the world have had a strong impact on the business and the banking institutions are not an exception. We managed to transform all the challenges into real opportunities, to upgrade and diversify the products and services offered to our clients. We are investing a lot in the digitalisation of our services, something that we started already some years ago. This gives us further motivation to keep the pace, to move ahead with new success stories and maintain our leading market position. Despite the limitations for physical meetings with clients, we managed to keep a good dialogue and work together. This showed how flexible we are and that we can do business even in unprecedented times and in a fully online environment.
Being a responsible leader in the corporate banking in Bulgaria, we strengthened further our focus on taking the digital banking services to the next level. Companies can take advantage of our e-solutions in the digital channels as well as in Bulbank Online and Bulbank Mobile. We have been developing and popularising further the Module for Online Securities Trading in Bulbank Online, which gives the individual clients opportunities to place orders and keep track of the securities and transactions from their personal wallet. Furthermore, we are proud with our Trade Finance Module in Bulbank Online which accepts easily corporate clients’ orders and all trade finance deals can be administrated completely online. The newest service developed by UniCredit Bulbank is the e-signing of documents – now legal entities have the opportunity to digitally sign (approve and send documents using QES* or the mobile app Evrotrust). For us it is important that Evrotrust, in their start-up phase, entrusted UniCredit in Bulgaria to support and help them grow. This is another proof of the important interdependence between fintech and financial institutions. This way we simplify and accelerate the process being more operationally effective paperless and maintaining a better traceability and archive of the documents. Easy, secure and time-saving.
Going forward, what are the highlights of your business strategy in terms of digitalisation?
As we all know, the last year and a half has been difficult for everyone, but we adapted quickly to the challenging new reality. This stimulated us to work even harder and accelerate further the process of creating new digital solutions for the corporate banking sector. Nowadays, more and more of our legal entity clients prefer to perform their operations with the bank remotely. All we do is underpinned by a clientcentric approach, we always work to satisfy these and our preferences and facilitate both our clients and our employees. This way clients can focus on their main business activities, while the bankers can focus on the customer relationship and company business development.
UniCredit has pledged to discontinue all financing of the coal sector by 2028 as part of plans to promote the green economy. What type of renewable energy projects do you intend to focus on in terms of financing in Bulgaria?
UniCredit is playing a central role in facilitating the transition to a more sustainable economy in line with the EU definition of sustainable finance aimed at supporting economic growth while reducing pressures on the environment and also taking into consideration social and governance aspects. Our updated coal policy is one example of our increasing ESG focus, with a commitment to, together with our clients, phase out coal sector financing by 2028.
In addition, we have further restrictive policies in place for the Arctic and Non-Conventional Oil & Gas sectors and we are committed to review our position also on other controversial sectors, taking into consideration all the most recent developments in the market and giving priority to the environmental risks present.
In Bulgaria, we have extensive expertise in green project financing and renewable energy and we are managing a diversified portfolio of green projects. It is not a new practice for us, and we are proud of our achievements in this area. Our approach towards our customers is to gain a full understanding of their business activities, future plans and ambitions and to together structure the most suitable sustainable solutions to best support their business needs.
Could you tell us more about your Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) policies?
At UniCredit, sustainability is part of how we do business and support our clients, communities, partners, and the industry at large by financing the transition to a low-carbon and more inclusive economy. ESG factors are integrated across our business with concrete targets and monitoring from lending to risk management, and the long-term incentive plans of our top management.
We have a long-term commitment to sustainability both internally and externally, embedded in our values and culture. To support the sustainable market and always match our clients’ needs, we continue to expand our ESG product and service offer, including: Social Impact Banking, sustainable financial instruments and advisory, energy efficient loans and sustainable investment products and advisory.
Our bank’s ESG progress to date has seen UniCredit reduce its GHG emissions by 60% as of 2020 (Scope 1 and 2) compared to the 2008 baseline with the long-term target of an 80% reduction by 2030. We are also on track to become completely paperless and remove all single-use plastic from our buildings by 2023.
In addition, in 2020 we updated our coal policy and continue to work to align our corporate lending portfolios with the climate scenarios of the Paris agreement. Furthermore, UniCredit is a leader in sustainable finance targeting a Top 5 league table position in EMEA combined Green Bonds and ESG-linked loans by 2023. The bank issued its inaugural Senior Preferred Green Bond for 1 billion euro at the end of June further underlining our strong commitment to sustainability and the strategic importance of ESG for the Group.
ESG helps us live and deliver on our values and continually grow our impact in the community. In 2020 our contribution to the development of our communities was 41.8 million euro (as measured by the B4SI reporting framework).
Furthermore, from the social side, the specific mission of our Social Impact Banking is to sustain companies committed to a social mission in the welfare sector, including social assistance, health, services for caregivers and education, as well as companies with a clear ESG orientation. We are also focused on fostering an environment of equal opportunities and inclusion internally. In January, UniCredit was for the second time included in the Bloomberg 2021 Gender-Equality Index (GEI) alongside other companies that are setting a clear example to advance women in the workplace. In 2020, the bank also joined the Valuable 500, a global movement focused on putting disability management on the business leadership agenda.
Do you see a pick up in credit activity? What types of projects would UniCredit finance?
For the first half of 2021 we see more dynamic and increase in the number and volume of the lending deals, accompanied by high liquidity on the market. Recently, we witnessed developments on the local and global markets, related to the growth of the commodities prices, increased delivery times and unexpected breaks in the supply chain. This combined with the unpredictable evolution of the virus and possible restrictions in the upcoming months, are putting the companies into unforeseen situation in which they have to react fast and expect also from us quick and customised solutions.
Our primary objective is to continue offering the best services to our corporate clients. We are glad that today we look towards more complex financial structures, investments and important projects for the local and CEE markets. As mentioned already, the business related to ESG factors has a growing importance for us and we have been focusing more and more on it. Therefore, these factors are fully integrated into our decision-making processes related to our business and operations.
How are the financial instruments you offer developing in response to client demand?
We talk to our clients to understand their business, strategy and needs, so then we can easily customise our proposition. This way we provide individual offers and tailor-made solutions. Moreover, our experts from the European Funds (EU) team are focused on providing a variety of banking products based on, and supported by, guarantee schemes to conclude new financial agreements for companies affected by the epidemic in the country. Programmes such as COSME, loans for companies affected by COVID-19 from Bulgarian Development Bank, as well as the Recovery programme are just some of the leading and sought-after programs to support our clients. We have also made the application for each product easily accessible – a digital form to be filled in through the bank’s website (www.unicreditbulbank.bg). This is followed by a call with one of our EU Funds experts who, together with the client, analyses the precise need and finds the most relevant solution.