The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the benefits of digitalization and remote interaction between companies. The process of digitalization, started few years ago, has accelerated during the pandemic, as Antoaneta Curteanu, Head of Retail Division at UniCredit Bank, and Camelia Ivan, CEO at Trans Sped, said at the second edition of Call4Leaders organized by Business Review.
”It is difficult to say what we would have done in this period of restrictions without all the digital products we have at our disposal, like card and online payments, mobile banking or digital signature, Remote interaction was used by companies in relation with the bank and also with business partners or clients. It was the only way to continue the activity,” says Antoaneta Curteanu.
Companies with higher levels of digitalization were more flexible and benefited from the beginning from the crisis. ”I can use the example of UniCredit Bank, we had the advantage of digitization and investments made in recent years and it helped us a lot in the pandemic context. We also have accelerated many projects started earlier,” shows Antoaneta Curteanu.
UniCredit had a digitalization plan that included working remote, so in the first weeks of March, the IT department prepared hundreds of pieces of equipment for the staff that started work-from-home. About 90 percent of the employees worked from home, but the bank also kept branches open. ”And because we already offered customers remote communication channels, we were able to continue to serve them without any interruptions,” says Curteanu.
”The restrictions imposed during the pandemic have been very important in accelerating the digitization process and in raising awareness of the benefits it brings to companies or public authorities. At Trans Sped, the demand for digital solutions increased compared to last year, given the impetus from the state authorities, through regulations. Social distancing has increased the interest for digital solutions both nationally and internationally,” says Camelia Ivan.
The Emergency Ordinance no. 38/2020 supported the digitization in public institutions and the relation between companies and state authorities. ”Social distancing led to growing demand for digital solutions and everyone wanted to have the solutions installed immediately. Certainly, the business environment has changed, in the business environment and it has become normal to have a phone call or a video call instead of meeting in person. Even the electronic signing of contracts has become normal,” shows Camelia Ivan.
There is a new pace for the business environment in recent months, since the digitization option became a necessity. Before the pandemic, solutions existed, but they were optional. ”It is now a necessity for those who want to grow. That is why we started a campaign to promote the digital solutions we offer to companies, a unique mix in the Romanian market through the benefits it brings. Digitization is a change for the better, leading to reduction in costs and time,” says Antoaneta Curteanu.
A digital archive has also become very important since working from home keeps employees away from the paper archive.
”Our experience showed that banking services must be people-oriented, it involves communicating with people. That’s why we encouraged customers to use digital channels and remote communication, even if we offer services in branches. Of course, a large part of a company’s activity with the bank can be done remotely. At UniCredit, we want to communicate with customers only digitally and for that we have the mobile banking application for SME’s and the new Business Net solution. We also included numerous benefits with these digital solutions to encourage their use and introduced the electronic signature. I am proud to say that UniCredit was the first bank in Romania to offer electronic signature for companies, launched in 2019. SMEs benefit from one to three free qualified certificates as part of the Creativ or Genius SME offer, while big companies, with over 200 employees, have customized offers. The electronic signature can also be used in relation to public authorities, which makes it an extremely relevant advantage,” says Curteanu.
The bank has several services for companies, including the meal card, Menu Card, through which companies can give vouchers to employees. Entrepreneurs that take a POS from the bank can also opt for a cash register or management/accounting software. The POS and the cash register are connected so they can be easily managed, including in relation with tax authorities. “Customers benefit from a 20 percent discount on the price of the packages offered by the bank’s partners for cash registers or software programs,” says Antoaneta Curteanu.
A survey conducted last year by the bank, through iSense Solutions, shows that employees in Romania spend on average 5 hours a month to sign bank documents, and that time increases in large companies. This can be solved by electronic signature and digital archive. “We, the bankers, were famous for the chubby files that we prepared all the time, but now their time is almost over,” says Curteanu.
Impact of digitization
The digitalization process has begun a few years ago, but now it is accelerated. “A digital acitivity-flow has an impact of up to 80 percent in the performance of the activity compared to an analog stream. The electronic signature is irrevocable, i.e. an act thus signed can no longer be modified. With the qualified certificate we have the certainty that no one can change anything and it takes about 30 seconds to sign. The electronic archive and its long-term preservation also have an impact on a company’s activity,” says Camelia Ivan.
The validation of the electronic signature is done in real time, all needed is an internet connection, through which a cryptographic communication is made. “For documents with high legal value, it is preferable to turn to such solutions,” says Ivan that also mentions that the digitalization trend is rising since the companies saw that if they do not become digital they will disappear from the market.
“UniCredit has chosen to offer free of charge qualified digital certificates valid for a period of 3 years, during which the customer can sign unlimited documents and contracts. Even to obtain an emergency certificate, you needed a qualified certificate,” says Camelia Ivan.
“Over time, our bank has come up with many digital solutions for our customers. Now we have a mix of digital solutions, unique on the market that includes things like digital certificates or qualified electronic signature. Another product is Business Mobile, which has zero administration costs. We also have solutions for moving the business online, a modular kit that allows businesses to open an online store quickly. It is a very good product especially for small companies, which do not have a dedicated IT department. The solution is offered by UniCredit in partnership with Mastercard,” says Antoaneta Curteanu.
The electronic signature eliminates the need to travel to a partner or client to sign a contract, which from the start means a reduction in costs. It can be signed from anywhere and anytime. There are also digital certifications for cash registers, through which ANAF can identify the device remotely.
“In addition, we also have elements for monitoring the contract path, when it was sent, when it was opened, etc. We know very clearly where our object is, we can trace it, including in the relationship with ANAF,” says Ivan.
From necessity to option
The option of digitization has become a necessity in the period of pandemic restrictions, but now necessity is again an option. “But those who have adopted digital solutions will continue to use them. Digital transformation of companies is needed regardless of the pandemic,” says Antoaneta Curteanu.
“Many of the digital solutions will be kept by companies, because they saw the advantages. In addition, the digital solutions are now much cheaper to implement and more cost-effective than conventional solutions. It does not mean that we will not see people or interact with them, but we will be able to make better use of our time. Companies are ready to go digital, the barrier was the human mentality,” says Camelia Ivan.
Regarding the openness to digitalization, in last year’s study 37 percent of companies said that they are open to new technologies and probably the percentage is higher now. 56 percent of the respondents stated that the use of the electronic signature in the relationship with the bank is very useful, and 42 percent stated that they have complete confidence in the electronic signature. “We have seen that larger companies adapt more easily to new technologies, for speed and cost reductions. Over 53 percent of respondents believed that digitalization would bring them cost reductions, and 45 percent greater opportunities for business development,” says Antoaneta Curteanu.
“We, at Trans Sped, have been in the market since 2004, and I watched how things evolved. It was quite a long period when only accountants or doctors needed a digital signature, but lately the volume has increased a lot, there have been lawyers, notaries and others in need of digital certificates. Also, a large number of companies that want digital signatures in all areas,” says Camelia Ivan.
Trans Sped offers qualified certificates recognized as having the same value as handwritten signature in all EU countries and USA. In total, the certificates are recognized in over 150 countries around the world. “This means that it doesn’t matter where your business partner is, in 30 seconds you have signed all the documents and have the certainty that the people behind the screen are the ones who claim to be, says Ivan.
“Our focus remains on digitization, including for individuals. The banks that will win in the future will be the simple, efficient banks that offer a high quality experience, with services available anytime and anywhere. Digitization and innovation remain our goals and we continue to move in this direction. We encourage their use through reduced fees or higher interest rates for online deposits. Or low interest loans if they are electronically signed,” concludes Antoaneta Curteanu.