June 2017 will see the opening of a new flagship Credit Agricole branch in Kyiv’s riverside Podil district. The unveiling of this new model branch will be the first stage in a nationwide process that will involve upgrades and innovations at the bank’s 150-plus Ukrainian branches as Credit Agricole moves to keep pace with the changing needs of Ukraine’s growing middle class retail banking clientele.
The design of the new Podil flagship branch reflects the bank’s current emphasis on transparency, with plenty of open spaces and a lack of partitions but with a dedicated meeting rooms for servicing clients. This branch is designed to meet all the customer expectations in terms of confidentiality, expertise, personal adviser and ability to receive services at any suitable time. It will offer a fully-fledged 24/7 self-service zone, a consultancy center for transactions and an internet banking zone, along with features such as a digital wall and coffee area where clients and bank staff can communicate informally. In general this flagship branch will propose a fresh approach to servicing clients due to its special zoning and the way everything is organized inside. As an example spaces for meetings with customers do not feature telephones, so there will be no annoying interruptions. The whole bank will be just for a client. This by the way reflects the new positioning of Credit Agricole – “The whole bank just for you!”
Many of Ukraine’s retail banks can be difficult to navigate, creating a sense of confusion and mild anxiety among occasional visitors as they try to work out where queues begin and which desk or counter they should head for. Thus the new branch will have the “meeter greeter” who will provide support and consultancy to new arrivals entering the branch. Credit Agricole Bank officials hope their solution to this common problem will prove particularly popular. “We want to change the classical model of Ukrainian banking where the client often appears to be lost, going from desk to desk and asking for help,” says Galyna Zhukova, a Board Member of Credit Agricole Bank in Ukraine responsible for the bank’s retail, digital, and network activities. “We want our staff to meet every client. It is so simple, but it changes the nature of the relationship between client and bank.”
This commitment to the personal approach comes at a time when many banks are moving in the opposite direction and focusing their retail banking strategies on digital services while downgrading walk-in facilities. Ms. Zhukova says the Credit Agricole strategy is in response to an extended dialogue with Ukrainian clients over the past two years, including brain storming sessions and focus groups. The goal was to identity what kind of service culture the bank’s customers wanted to see. “Despite all the predictions that branch networks will die a natural death amid the march of digitization, our dialogue with clients has led us to belief that bank branches actually have a promising future,” she says. “Clients are becoming more demanding and digitally savvy. They expect maximum speed and convenience from their banking services, but they do not want to do everything on their own. There is still demand for professional advice, but we found that people want to receive this on a personal level, not from a robot or an anonymous call center. They want to share their ideas and discuss financial issues with bank staff who know them and understand their individual situation.”
Ms. Zhukova says the ideal branch of the future should be at the center of what she describes as ‘a multi-channel relationship between the client and the bank’. She argues that while digital solutions will continue to expand into every sphere of banking activity, the branch as a point of human contact will evolve rather than becoming extinct. This process of evolution mirrors the developing expectations of Ukraine’s retail banking market. Ms. Zhukova sees Ukraine’s growing middle class as the key engine driving demand for more comprehensive banking services, and says the country’s current economic recovery will help to support this process. “The environment is changing and the share of people in Ukraine looking for solid retail banking options is growing. The expanding middle class is becoming more and more aware that banks are service providers and they, as consumers, can be demanding and can choose. Banks need to adapt to their needs.”
She sees many positives in the banking reforms of the past three years. However, Ms. Zhukova supports greater efforts to explain the process to the public and help them to make informed financial decisions. “The Ukrainian population would benefit from greater financial awareness,” she says. “When banks default, people suffer. However, some people repeat the same mistake, risking their money by opting for the most aggressive interest rates.”
She believes individual banks have a role to play in addressing this problem. “We need to see greater communication with the public to inform them about financial matters.” Ms. Zhukova says international banks like Credit Agricole are already contributing to this process by introducing a culture of predictability and compliance to the market. This includes Credit Agricole’s clear and transparent pricing policy on interest rates and commissions.
She expects these practices to continue spreading throughout the Ukrainian banking industry as competition grows and customer expectations rise. “More and more Ukrainian banks are now asking their clients to demonstrate the source of their money, much as we have done for many years,” she reflects. “Factors like this can contribute to the qualitative changes taking place in the banking sector as a whole.”