Call for Leaders – 3Q is a new category where Business Review features our 3 questions with some of Romania’s top business professionals, bringing a positive, insightful, or otherwise constructive view of their markets in the context of the current crisis.
Current conversation: Serge Offers, CFO ING Bank Romania
What are the measures you took for your business during this period?
Our priority was keeping our people safe and almost overnight more than 95% of our head-office employees started working remotely without any interruption of the services provided to our clients. The fact that most of our client interactions are digital, or better mobile, was a big advantage making this transition possible. In the offices working hours were reduced and protective measures implemented to minimize the risk of infection. I would like to thank our teams for their adequate response with a special „thank you” going to our colleagues in the offices, that were standing in our very own front line.
These unprecedented circumstances had a profound impact on our people. In these times, communication was key, but we also organized competitions, virtual drinks and launched an internal social media platform to keep staff connected and engaged. Now that the country is slowly opening, how to go back to the offices is top of mind. Besides implementing precautionary measures, like adjusting the floor lay-out and taking additional sanitary actions, we are focused on making people feel safe to return to the office and get used to the new normal with structurally more work-from-home.
We reached the milestone of 1 million clients with recurrent income during the crisis, while net growth in lending shows our continued support to the economy. Several measures were quickly announced on how we would support our clients during these difficult times. Since mid-March, when ING first announced its own payment holiday scheme that has now been replaced by the OUG 37/2020, we have received almost 28,000 requests from individuals and over 1,300 requests from SMEs. To further support SMEs, ING also participates in the IMM Invest program and more than 5,000 clients have since requested loans.
In total, ING Bank Romania donated RON 2 million in the fight against COVID-19. The initial focus was to support the health system by donating 3,000 pieces of protection equipment to national hospitals while 5,000 free tests were processed by the Regina Maria laboratories. ING also supported Code4Romania with developing digital solutions for public information, that became relevant during the past 2 months. We also continued to support entrepreneurs and promote financial health through Startarium and Banometru respectively.
What’s your advice for business leaders for this crisis?
First and foremost, to acknowledge that this is an unprecedented crisis that creates feelings of fear and stress among many of our people including ourselves. Unfortunately, this is also the time when we tend to be occupied with ensuring business continuity of our critical services. The urgency of addressing operational issues should not prevent us from properly communicating to the broader organization how events are unfolding and what they can expect going forward when we navigate together through this crisis. It is now even more important than usual to be visible as a leader, take the time to listen and respond to existing concerns to the extent possible. Keep the message simple, be open about unknowns, and dare to be vulnerable how this crisis impacts you personally.
Next to addressing the immediate impact, give yourself the time to think about the longer-term impact of the crisis on your organization. I do not believe anyone claims to know for certain what the ‘new normal’ will look like but trends such as digitalization are accelerating and customer preferences change. How can you position yourself to benefit from these future developments and emerge stronger in the post COVID-19 world?
What’s the most positive business news you’ve read recently and want to share it?
I am inspired by the many stories about how parties initially united to fight the COVID-19 virus and now aim to restart the economy. In the last week, I was especially following the news about the close cooperation between the government and private sector how to best implement the economic recovery plan. I see the high expectation for these support measures voiced in the media as a positive sign that entrepreneurs are confident about the prospects of their businesses and willing to invest. I am also optimistic that the government calls the European Green Deal a clear guide for their subsequent actions. Besides the environmental benefits, this will also foster innovation and investments in sectors linked to energy, agriculture and the circular economy that could be partially financed by EU funds. The silver lining came last Friday when S&P affirmed Romania’s sovereign rating.
One the other side, I am concerned that the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases is showing a slightly increasing trend at the beginning of June. I hope we can curb the spread of the virus and continue further opening the country while minimizing the likelihood of requiring stricter measures to be implemented again at any time in the future.
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