NF Innova, a leading innovative software company developing a state-of-the-art digital banking platform, has had quite a successful year.
Gregor Bierent, Chief Executive Officer of NF Innova, talks to BIZLife about upcoming trends and plans for next year.
- Banking is really evolving, with apps performing previously unimaginable tasks. Where is the finish line in this race of innovation?
Yes, indeed, there are numerous developments out there that are driving more optimization and simplicity across a wide range of businesses. Is the race for invention coming to an end? I don’t think so. Technology is growing and there are still many opportunities, to innovate and find better, optimal solutions and new ways to improve the existing challenges, especially in banking.
- Are we heading toward a life without branches, and if so, when will it happen?
We certainly are, and we are already aware that branch activities for Retail customers are being dramatically reduced due to the use of technology – mobile, web banking or Kiosk / ATM banking. Banks are trying to automate and simplify standardized and/or complex customer-facing processes to the greatest extent possible, and only ask customers to visit branches for more complex requests, such as mortgage (financing a house/apartment), advisory purposes or whenever local regulatory requires it. In some countries, we are already offering a solution to enable a full online process with the involvement of an e-notary and without the need for branch visits for mortgages.
- Branch visits used to be a tradition, but now we have to pay for them. Why? Online service appears to be nearly free. What makes them different? It seems like some kind of penalty.
Physical services in the branch are far more expensive than online services and I presume that many banks are attempting to pass these additional expenses on to customers as a motivator to migrate them online. We can compare this to eCommerce and ordering a new TV or laptop from Amazon versus buying it in a store. Of course, we cannot “touch” or “see” the product life online, but we do receive a lot of content, pictures, product descriptions, customer reviews, etc. to evaluate the product and prepare for our purchase.
Usually, the price is substantially lower online than at the store. Cost-wise, this approach is much cheaper for the seller than maintaining a shop with salespeople, paying for staff, electricity, paying for rent and running local marketing, paying for items that are displayed, etc. The same applies in banking, especially in Retail / Private Individual banking, where many processes and requests are very similar and not too complex and can thus be completed more efficiently online or through mobile platforms.
- You’re known for being more on a plane than a car, bringing experience from different markets. What makes banking different in other parts of the world? How do banks expand and what do they value?
Since NF Innova is quite active across multiple countries, even continents, we have the opportunity to better understand the challenges that banks face in diverse markets and under different regulatory regimes. Whether we are looking at banking in the Gulf countries (Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, etc.) or East- and South Africa, we recognize that banks are looking for the same thing: to improve Customer experience across segments (Retail, SME; Corporate Customers) by simplifying banking interaction across touch points (where Mobile is key channel in the meantime for Retail & SME segment) and to reduce involvement of internal resources, especially for daily banking activities.
African banks, for example, face a problem in winning and onboarding new customers because there is a wide network of mobile payment providers and ecosystem partners enabling digital transactions (payment) that are “good enough” for citizen maturity. So, the majority of banks in this region are focused on using technology to convince their target customers to deposit money in a bank account or to request financing from the bank in the most convenient way possible – which is the digital approach only.
- It’s cool that NF Innova is attempting to make a global impact. How do you manage that?
First of all, it is not only me managing the thing; it’s our whole team who are working hard every day to take our company to the next level. We all know that banks outside of Serbia accept and look favorably upon the SW product we made in Serbia and tested in the region. Due to our efforts in product development, marketing and Business Development, foreign banks (like those in Dubai / UAE) recognize and approach us directly to discuss about partnerships and learn more about the banking technology we have in place. This is excellent proof, and it goes hand-in-hand with the fact that our cutting-edge technology and technical experts have been recognized by technology analysts or accepted by global Fintech conferences, such as Finovate.
- Your company has a unique atmosphere, synergy, and work discipline. How did you create that?
As a dedicated sports enthusiast and practitioner, I plan to frequently draw parallels between business and sports. Take formula 1 as an example: yes, Max Verstappen won 19 races out of 23 with Red Bull in 2023, which is an incredible achievement, but he would not be able to do so without a hard-working expert team supporting him daily by delivering the hard- and software, as well as all services he requires to outperform his competition,. Every engineer is his or her own expert, is responsible for his or her area of expertise, is accountable for his or her actions and drives day-to-day activities with an entrepreneurial mindset. Working as a team is key to success; no finger pointing, no excuses, no complaints, either all win or all loose.
Assume that, together with the management team in NFI, we are attempting to become Red Bull in F1 and we have identified and defined what important values we see and how we want to provide the best value and outcome for our customers, as well as what is necessary from our side. Since no CEO or one specialist engineer can achieve that alone, we strive to achieve it as a team, and I believe we are already making progress.
- We learned that NF Innova is in the Finovate competition in London. What innovations are on the way, and why was your demo chosen again?
Yes, Finovate has chosen us again to be one of the few Fintechs authorized to demo their latest developments on stage in London at the end of February 2024. This is great achievement for us because Finovate conducts a rigorous review of companies applying to demo, and we managed to pass this procedure. So, in London, we will be presenting our latest product developments of Fintense in the areas of Data, AI and Customer insights. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose all details at this time, but our presentation revolve around a bank customer’s Digital Score, Hyper Personalisation and the simplicity of providing individual banking experience across bank clients in Digital Banking using Fintense.
- Share your knowledge – what are banks truly looking for these days? What sets leaders apart?
All of our clients and prospects across different regions are actively leveraging on technology to simplify and improve customer banking experience, as well as to use Fintense to increase efficiency and shift product sales to digital channels. Banks that are at the forefront of Digital Banking have a bold digital vision and excellent execution capabilities throughout the organization, not just IT. Digital banking is no longer regarded as “one initiative in one business area”, it is rather seen as one of the company’s few key strategic efforts to gain competitive advantage, win over new customers and lead in the respective markets. To achieve that, very tight cooperation is required with an aligned mid- to long-term strategy between bank and NFI and joint forces, which we refer to as “Co-Creation”.
- What should banks understand in order to stay competitive?
Digital Banking has progressed and developed a lot in recent years, but we are still far from completing our mission. Digital Banking is here to stay, as technology advances and new ways of doing business, providing services and selling products emerge. It was and continues to be essential, by following current trends and how they impact banks’ businesses, both positively and negatively, and re-evaluating and, if necessary, adjusting banks’ future plans and initiatives. There are many trends that are only touched on but not really looked into, such as embedded banking (“invisible banking”), Augmented & Virtual Reality for next level Customer experience and the effects of AI on the banking world.
- Finally, rank the banks in the region. What is the basis for the rating and what suggestions do you have for them?
Rating every bank is a little challenging since the digital space is already generating a lot of attention and output in the region. In the past months, we analyzed a serious number of incumbent banks and challenger banks, their difference, their challenges and how they acquire value. Our assessment is summarized in our strategy paper “How can digital banking bring results?” and I would like to invite you to download your copy here and conduct your own self-assessment but, of course, feel free to reach out to me / us for individual discussions and how NFI can help to lead the race in Digital Banking.