Petr Baron for Forbes.bg: tbi stands for freedom, transparency, and innovation

Our CEO, Petr Baron, talks about the relationship between fintech and banking, and the freedom that our new product – neon – gives customers in an interview for Forbes Bulgaria: 

Petr, what makes tbi a challenger bank?  
For me this starts with the team and its mindset. We don’t look for standard boring bankers. We look for people who really want to achieve something, who want to leave their mark, who want to make a difference on the market, who really want to build an exciting story, who want to be great and build and deliver great products for our customers. In short – to challenge the status quo in finance. Our team uses the latest technologies to approach customer journeys and figure out how to solve customer pain points in the best way. The end goal is to create innovative solutions, products, customer journeys that will benefit the customers and ultimately save their time. For our merchant partners this means providing innovative check out options, and when it comes to our end customers – our neon card is the best example of what we do. It came in partnership with Visa and we are the first bank in Southeast Europe to be part of their “Fintech in a Box” program. neon is a mix оf a debit and a credit card which gives full flexibility to the customers to operate with their funds free of charge, to finance their needs but also saving their money. That’s extremely unique product and honestly don’t know many examples in the world that make daily banking so accessible while offering so many other credit at hand options.  

How has 2023 been for tbi so far in terms of business? 
Looking at our results from the first quarter we see again that our overall state is very stable and secure. In terms of financial performance, we are continuing growing as we have steadily been doing in the past years – in terms of customers, but also on our assets and profitability side. Still, we realize that the banking environment over the last few months has not been easy. Even though the situation on the global markets does not impact our region, we are in the industry which goes through a lot of stress and overall attention. But our team is very experienced and gone through a number of crises both in Bulgaria and on other markets, because we have people from 16 nationalities. Exactly this experience allows us to look at what is happening globally, discuss and reflect on it, while, as Churchill famously said, “keeping calm and carrying on”. We keep on delivering on our promise, delivering solutions, growing our customer proposition and growing our business. We believe that as a challenger with our culture there is a great opportunity for us if we keep on working with our safe risk management strategy and are responsive to our customer expectations. 

Embedded finance is the topic you raise often as the main future trend – what will this mean for the Bulgarian customers? 
Until very recently we had banks and any other service or goods providers on two different sides. Embedded finance allows financial services to be embedded into the customer journey so that these two sides are much more intertwined. Now many people don’t think about money when they order a taxi or food. We at tbi have also been embedding our financing tools for ecommerce journeys for our customers to be able to acquire goods or services in instalments on the webstores of many retailers across the region in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. And this is just the beginning. There will be so many other businesses that soon will be using financial technologies smoothly in order to save time for everyone. 

Often in fintech new products and services come with flaws that need to be fixed with later versions. What is more important in fintech – speed or excellence?  
This is a tricky question, but I think the answer is in the balance between both. Because I think speed is very important, but I also think that overthinking does not help you to get everything right. You only learn from experimentation, from getting the customers’ feedback and finding out what works and where the bugs are coming from. In our case, we try to do things right, but always in iterations. You cannot sit and wait until you come up with a perfect solution because by that time the market will move on. Nothing in the technology world today is static. Before you can create, say, a wooden table right. And that wooden table could last centuries. Now you’re creating code, interfaces, UX, UI. It’s constantly evolving, as are customer expectations. So, you must make sure to develop a team that is both responsible to deliver quality, but also moves as fast as possible.  

[quoteblock content=”Nothing in the technology world today is static.” author=”Petr Baron” author_position=”CEO of tbi fs, Founder-In-Residence” author_avatar=”https://tbibank.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/rsz_microsoftteams-image_237_v2.png” section_id=””][/quoteblock]

You’ve mentioned that your flagship product – tbi’s neon – is very convenient for the customers.  Which are the most used features so far? 

It’s simple – people use it for their daily banking as we have best proposition on the market. The free transactions within Bulgaria in leva and the Euro zone in euro are a feature a lot of customers appreciate. Splitting purchases in instalment is also valued – currently it’s still only post-purchase, but soon we’ll launch shopping limits. Plus, the instalments up to 3 months are interest-free, with 6m and 12m also available. On top customer can access his bigger limit at any point in time and pay it pf in transparent instalments. This feature is great, as most credit cards are very untransparent and people don’t really understand what they are charged for. And let’s not forget the savings solutions that are integrated into neon – even keeping your funds in the account is making money for you. So, for me our proposition gives customers freedom for their daily banking needs, transparency and product innovation. What more can you ask from your bank! 

What features do you plan to release by the end of 2023? 
I’ve already mentioned the pre-approved shopping limit as an alternative to the credit card which will be launched soon. neon’s integration with Apple Pay and Google Pay will be coming within months. This is the innovation and speed to market I have been mentioning – we never stay static and always think of new ideas and ways to satisfy the customers.  

tbi started operating in Greece a year ago. How do you see the development on that new market, and do you plan further expansion? 

The Greek market has been very exciting for us. Our team there is great, and we already have over 2000 merchant partners. We work with Skroutz.gr, number 1 marketplace in Greece, Hellas Direct, the most advanced digital insurance company, Car.gr and many, many more. Also, in terms of applications Greece is already our number one market, but we are taking this fact very cautiously because banking is a risk management business, we need time to train our credit models. We see huge potential there. In terms of news markets Cyprus would be a very logical next step, as many of our Greek partners work there, but not in 2023. 

How do you see the current state of the battle between fintechs and banks? 

I never saw it as a battle, honestly, even though a lot of people try to play that card. Because very often technology providers are considered fintechs, or real Fintech consumer service providers are most often just a single vertical provider of a certain solution. So now banks have taken great appreciation of such solution and are really cooperating with them. Something that was in fact strategic for us from the start – to be much more open minded to look for better solutions and always innovate on the customer journey by using the technology of somebody who invested a lot of time and a lot of experience in it and just partner. But what we see now with the downturn of funding from venture capital for these guys, a lot of them have not proven that they have viable business models, and they cannot scale profitably, so some of them will close. Others will be bought as technology teams and there will be a few which were which have already gathered muscle and will continue scaling further. I think it will be also very much a market-to-market situation because in some markets you have great local fintech players. If there is a market gap, good business models will have a place under the sun. But the big, traditional banks will also be transforming better. So even if it’s not a battle, I think we’ve reached a normal competition scenario and the future of finance will be very interesting. 

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