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Marija Popović, OTP Banka, Executive Board Member, in Charge of the Corporate Segment

Year of Record-breaking Results and New Standards

We help the economy grow and generate profit in accordance with ESG standards

Two years after the largest integration on the Serbian banking market, but still in an atmosphere of dynamic and frequent changes and major banking sector consolidation, 50 banka Srbija has managed to maintain its leading position and remains the largest creditor of companies and individuals.

As the bank of choice of numerous companies, many wonder what it is that makes OTP stand out from the competition. According to Marija Popović, member of the Bank’s Executive Board assigned to the corporate segment and also Chairman of the Board of directors of OTP Leasing, it is the Bank’s partnership approach.

“Our people are our greatest capital, employees who are ready to push the boundaries; and the agile approach that we cultivate and our tendency to be partners and advisors to our clients, not just a bank that approves a loan or provides a specific service. We strive to help them upgrade their businesses and achieve better results,” said Marija at the start of this interview.

You’ve been in the banking business for more than 20 years and have acquired huge experience working with clients, though you continue to put efforts into learning new things. Do you still enjoy each new project and challenge?

— Contrary to misconceptions, the industry that I work in is quite stimulating, exciting and, perhaps to the surprise of many, creative. I still welcome each new project with great enthusiasm, as it is an opportunity for growth and development, both for me personally and for my team. The opportunity for constant learning, creating new contacts and deepening existing ones, cooperating with people and implementing innovative solutions contribute to the undiminished satisfaction with which I arrive at work every day. I am happy that I chose this business path and that I have the opportunity to enjoy my everyday business challenges. Being part of a successful team and collaborating with wonderful people is the nicest part of this job. I take away from each meeting some new experience and knowledge, and that is my greatest source of motivation.

The year 2023 proved to be a successful one, despite numerous challenges. What are your predictions for next year?

— We expect the gradual stabilisation of inflation to continue with a stable dinar exchange rate, which – coupled with a highly liquid and profitable banking sector – will enable banks to additionally support clients from the corporate segment. Our goal is to be a pillar of growth and stability for corporate clients.

As a member of the OTP Group and part of a large European banking family, we are committed to the green transition and will strive to expand our activities and educate clients in that area as well. It is important that companies adopt green business models as soon as possible and that they understand the prospects provided on the European market by doing so. ESG investments have reached record levels worldwide, and we, as a bank, are here to support them in achieving sustainable development together.

Through our products and financial education programmes, we are already trying to additionally empower young people to enter maturity as sufficiently financially educated persons

On the other hand, we strategically support the development of the start-up community and encourage the advancement of the innovation ecosystem, which is best seen in the fact that we recently launched the unique OTP Connect programme. OTP Connect, as a place that connects innovators and our bank, represents an open platform and training ground for joint growth and development. Through this platform, we combine the bank, as a traditional business organisation, with startups, as generators of new, technologically advanced solutions. I look forward in particular to seeing the solutions that this programme will produce in the corporate banking segment.

I also expect more discussions about the role of banks in keeping the economy liquid, and so factoring and reverse factoring will continue to be areas in which banks will invest their technological and expert resources. Thanks to the complete offer of all types of factoring products, OTP banka will strive to expand its portfolio and strengthen its cooperation with small and large companies.

You mentioned that the offer, services, interests and working models of banks on the local market are more or less the same, but that the people make the difference. Will anything ever replace a good team of committed people, even with the development of AI?

— Of course not, because artificial intelligence is already present in banks, but has in no way jeopardised the position of the people. Artificial intelligence will actually “push” people into moving from highly operational and service-oriented tasks to focusing on consultancy, strategic and analytical work. Artificial intelligence is primarily there to combine banking and technology. Its purpose is to collect and process data in a faster a simpler way, to optimise processes and thus save time that we will use to work on creating and implementing new services.

You readily highlight the fact that you had excellent mentors who provided you with opportunities and space to develop. Do you nurture that same kind of approach today in your relations with your younger colleagues? Are there any differences between male and female mentors?

— Yes, I was lucky enough to have different mentors during my career and I learned something new from each of them. The fact that they are different was a big advantage for me, because I managed to adapt and learn a lot about different styles of leading people and solving problems.

I today try to work a lot with my colleagues and for us all to grow together with the organisation for which we work. The willingness to talk openly, share experiences and receive criticism is something we work on the most.

What inspires me very much is the coming of a new generation on the market, their energy and the way of thinking that they bring. Through our products and financial education programmes, we are already trying to additionally empower young people to enter maturity as sufficiently financially educated persons, and I really look forward to seeing the changes in culture and way of managing people and projects that they will undoubtedly bring. Change management is a big topic in our company, partly conditioned by the emergence of Generation Z, which has been born and raised in the digital era.

Your bank stands out for its CSR activities, which you implement with a view to improving diverse areas of society. Could you single out certain donations or actions, including cooperation with publishing company Booka?

— It is precisely these activities that form part of our corporate business strategy – rather than individual, isolated actions – that make us enjoy the work we do. OTP banka views its operations through a much broader lens than just the one that focuses on good financial results, increasing assets and client numbers, and which equally considers CRS-driven positive change in society as its true success.

Yes, in just two years, the contest that we run with publishing house Booka for the best unpublished novel of the year brought some of the most authentic literary signatures to our literary scene. We are no less proud of the already traditional channels of support that we develop through our partnerships in culture and sports, and through our work with socially marginalised groups. We particularly emphasise our pioneering step into the “Together for stronger social solidarity” initiative. We want to see our business operations recognised and acknowledged not just because of financial figures at the end of the year, but also because of human figures who save and change lives. It is for this reason that recently, together with our partners from the Serbian Philanthropic Forum and the Trag Foundation, we started creating a unified Register of Civil Society Organisations that OTP banka will exempt from commissions when paying humanitarian donations to their dedicated accounts. Business with a purpose and social influence has to become the imperative of the present time.

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