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Customer Innovation: Erste Bank [Q&A]

Erste Bank Hungary ACI Customer Innovation

The global banking sector is becoming both more strategically focused and technologically advanced, responding to rising consumer expectations while trying to defend market share against an increasing array of competitors. A great deal of emphasis is being placed on digitizing core business processes, and reassessing organizational structures and internal talent to be better prepared for the future of banking.

To explore this notion further, I recently discussed the importance of innovation in targeting, expanding services, re-configuring delivery channels and integrating immediate payments with Reka Schreiber, head of operations at Erste Bank Hungary.

Lu Zurawski: Can you begin with defining what innovation means for a bank like Erste and the trends that are driving change?

RS: Innovation means behaving like an IT company with a Banking licence. PSD2 and open banking have provided a much-needed platform on which to build new innovate services while at the same time allowing Erste Bank to streamline the back office and redeploy resources to increase efficiency.

One innovation track is dedicated to customer experience; how they consume services and what future usage will look like, and the second is focused on making our processes more efficient through automation. We have become more comfortable with a faster pace of innovation, using data and analytics more extensively and digitizing processes as opposed to simply refining old practices.

In branches, contact centers and online, we have an ongoing initiative of surveying customers to understand their problems – for example, things that are not working the way that they should – and what gaps we may have in our service provision. These are critical inputs into our decision-making process whenever we decide on a particular innovation path.

Interestingly, customers don’t tend to have a set of specified needs; rather, their experiences and requirements are shaped by interaction with the likes of Amazon or Google. We have to recreate that feeling in our banking apps and services by interpreting a basic need. Then it comes down to digitizing and automating a process so that it can be completed in two to three clicks.

LZ: The role that industry collaboration plays in innovation today is certainly not one that can be underestimated. A major trend over the past 12 to 18 months has been the number of partnerships that have sprung up between traditional banks and fintechs. What role do you think collaboration plays on innovation?

RS: Banks fail to understand that for most customers, especially retail, banking is still not up to the standard that they expect. Transparency, ease of use and customer service are lacking, which is driving the growth of digital and challenger banks that can provide customized experiences. On the other hand, when you get to a more personal level, i.e. loan, mortgages, etc., there is a trust question that arises in terms of whom you have confidence in to provide those services and with whom to share your data.

Most traditional banks are spending huge amounts of money trying to get their foundations right and streamline back-end systems. But at the same time, those same banks are notoriously slow to react, which means that partnering is more likely the best solution.

Some of that collaboration comes from the threat of Big Tech entering the market. However, banks also have effectively managed and embedded control mechanisms to handle customer data and privacy, which is valued by fintechs seeking legitimacy and trust credentials.

LZ: How do you think innovation drives transformational change at Erste Bank?

RS: On the corporate side, everyone talks about globalization, SEPA instant payments, SWIFT migration to ISO20022, etc. This global move to cross-border instant payments will significantly impact global banking as cross-border money transfers stop being about generating fees and become a value foundation on top of which banks can create new products and services for their customers.

Certain investments in the market are so huge that if there is no uptick in the market, it amounts to lost funding. For example, Request to Pay (RtP) will only work if there is a big enough network of banks that can both ‘issue’ and ‘receive’ requests to pay. To share the innovation burden, QR codes in Hungary were developed by the banking community to establish a common standard that everyone can use.

LZ: And finally, how important will that collaborative innovation be with the rise of real-time and other payment systems?

RS: Looking to the future, the focus is to drive increased access to immediate payments and new overlay services that build on and complement our strengths. At the same time, new global payment systems are evolving outside of the traditional financial providers’ and banks’ ecosystems. All types of players including merchants, telecoms and social media platforms have the opportunity to develop their own payment processes. This will not only fuel cross‑sector convergence, but could also lead to more players encroaching on the territory of traditional banks.


ACI's Innovation Awards recognize leading banks, financial intermediaries, merchants and corporates around the world for their innovative use of our UP portfolio of leading payment solutions. Find out more:


Meet with ACI Worldwide at Sibos 2019 in London, September 23-26 (Booth Q125) to find out how to accelerate your business with payments intelligence, real-time payments and Open Banking strategies. Explore the future of payments with our Request for Payment (RfP) demo and walk away with an exclusive giveaway.