With the integrating of Crnogorska Komercijalna Banka and Podgoricka Bank, companies and the state have gained a stronger partner to support development projects, while the society will benefit through the Bank’s socially responsible actions and the support of parent company OTP, as the dominant regional banking group
In the midst of the pandemic, Crnogorska Komercijalna Banka completed its merger with Podgoricka Bank. Yet Pál Kovács, CEO of Crnogorska Komercijalna Banka and an MFIC board member, didn`t see this integration project as a risky one. The process began more than a year and a half ago and is just completed.
“Our goal is to build a modern, digital, customer-orientated bank that will best serve the needs of our clients, the state and society as a whole. Regardless of the current circumstances and despite the pandemic, we have been building an even bigger and stronger bank in Montenegro, although our activities would be easier if they were conducted in a regular environment,” admits Kovacs.
“The epidemic period certainly changes the usual way of doing business,” says our interlocutor. “We are doing our best to protect employees by organising work from home whenever possible, clients are also being protected with the introducing of measures in branches, while we are introducing more digital solutions for them, cancelling fees for online payments when needed, accepting moratoriums on loan repayments etc.”
However, he adds, “despite all those changes and challenges to the organisation of our activities, I am proud to announce that we completed the integration project on time. There will always be risks in business, but the reaction and agility matter.”
You initiated the consolidation with the thesis that large banks in a small market can provide greater efficiency of the economy and better support the country’s economy and its projects. What exactly will this mean for your clients?
– I do believe that a large bank in a small market can provide greater efficiency. Global trends of enlargement under many financial and other brands and markets prove that. The benefits of integrating CKB and Podgoricka Bank will be felt the most by our clients. The integrated bank will offer a wide range of products and provide quick services and innovative digital products. A larger number of branches than before will be at the service of our clients. At the 35 branches of the new CKB network throughout Montenegro, and through 115 ATMs, the bank will provide broad market coverage, high service quality and quick responses to clients’ requirements, in line with the recognisable standards of the OTP Group.
When it comes to the long-term recovery of the Montenegrin economy from COVID-19, is it more crucial for the country to focus on foreign investors who are already present or to attract new ones?
I would say that focusing on both of these is equally important. Montenegro has been one of the fastest growing economies in the region for a few years, which has attracted foreign investors. What’s needed now is to stay on this path by maintaining stability and progressing towards the EU. The introduction of more EU regulations and policies will help overcome the damage caused by COVID-19. This will contribute to the creation of a favourable environment for new investors to arrive, but also for those already present to expand their activities and perhaps enlarge their existing investments. Many periods of crisis throughout history have also been shown to have been opportunities.
While maintaining regular operations and achieving good results, CKB completed the integration project with Podgoricka Bank. We showed our ability to adapt even in the most demanding situation
Considering that Montenegro has been largely dependent on the tourism sector and that many other economic activities were connected with this branch, how do you assess the overall economic situation, as both a banker and as an executive?
The pandemic situation has already presented new challenges to be solved, and not only in the area of health, rather in each segment of society and the economy worldwide. As a small economy mainly oriented towards tourism and related industries, Montenegro is also facing challenges. The period ahead of us will provide answers about the kind of restructuring that will be needed, but it’s evident that turning to sustainable projects and green energy usage might be a solution, as well as an increase in food processing and enhancing agriculture, which will provide high quality products for the needs of Montenegro and for export. Enhancing small and medium-sized businesses will be also needed, and our bank will be there to support every sound and justified project. I always point out the credit lines we provide as support to smaller companies based on EU guarantees, and I think this kind of support will now be even more important and useful.
What are your expectations of the new Government of Montenegro when it comes to incentive measures for the economy?
I expect that Montenegro will continue on its path towards the EU. The further strengthening and improving of the rule of law, governance system, rules of accession and the modernisation of infrastructure should remain important goals, as they will help Montenegro to stay attractive for investing. The new winning coalition also confirmed that it will be retaining the system’s stability and respecting international arrangements, such as ones stipulated with the WBM, EIB etc.
On the other hand, as a bank, CKB will remain a catalyst for good business, modernisation, innovations and the improvement of the business culture and environment. I hope that our company will contribute to the further development of the country and the implementation of the highest European standards of business.
How would you assess the work of the banking sector and how do you cooperate with the Central Bank?
The Montenegrin banking sector is stable and liquid, and having a healthy banking sector that is a driver of economic growth is crucial, because it supports development and the preservation of businesses and jobs. Not so long ago, in 2009, banks were the cause of the crisis, but now they are the drivers of recovery and stabilisation. Our banking sector responded proactively to the COVID crisis by offering a moratorium on loan repayments, both to individual and corporate clients and in accordance with that which the regulator prescribed. This project showed the good synergy of the Central Bank and commercial banks, which helped overcome the unexpected consequences COVID-19 that hit the finances of our citizens and companies. Our bank was more than ready to help the National Coordination Body for the fight against disease (NKT), with donations to help the citizens and our community. Under the most difficult working conditions, we enabled continuity without interruptions to operations. CKB has excellent cooperation with the regulator and always respects its measures, harmonising with recommendations and contributing to the stability of the banking system dations and contributing to the stability of the banking system.
Many banks have invested heavily in the digitisation of services for both citizens and business clients. What are your priorities in this segment?
CKB is known as a bank with a culture of high innovation, including digitisation. We have our digital teams, which have already been working for years, in order to monitor the latest global trends and offer our clients modern versions of digital solutions. CKB is the first to make innovative digital moves in Montenegro… Apple Pay, CKB GO – mobile banking, participation in Digital Kiosk – these are all CKB digital innovations. The CKB Mobile banking platform is among the best in the banking industry. Montenegro is becoming more digital every day and it is our duty, as responsible bankers, to continue supporting our clients in their daily activities by creating and providing them with only the best and simplest digital solutions for their business activities and personal finances.