I was going to keep quiet during this holiday week but, in the spirit of selfishness, I’m going to post a few blog entries about the Ukraine.
Ukraine is a country I’ve not visited before, but was invited to fly over just before Christmas to run a discussion with Privatbank, the largest retail and commercial bank in the country.
Bearing in mind the issues in the Ukraine, which I will post some thoughts around in the next few days, this was quite a special visit, particularly when we stood in the Maidan Square in Kiev where, just a year earlier, most of the population had stood in protest at Russia’s annexation of the Crimea.
This Russian aggression resulted in worldwide protest and led to the American and European sanctions against Russia, which I’ve blogged about before.
I had been invited to present a keynote speech that would be broadcast live at the bank’s headquarters in Dnipropetrovsk, the fourth largest city in the Ukraine with around one million people. I didn’t think much about this until I arrived at the bank’s offices to find a billboard poster with my face on it.
Apparently the bank had been broadcasting my visit for some time and had created great interest in the theme of the future of banking, my specialist subject. In fact, they had generated so much interest that when I presented the webinar, which was almost three hours long, thousands of people tuned in.
The Russian version of my presentation has received almost 20,000 views and 3,000 likes as I write this, more than anything I’ve seen before and quite exceptional (the English version also has over 2,500 views).
This was not the only exceptional experience during the week. For example, Privatbank is also one of the most innovative banks I’ve encountered, rolling out open source architectures, APIs and more in a completely transparent way. In fact, the bank tries to be first at everything in innovation, and clearly demonstrate these characteristics in a variety of ways.
They were one of the first banks to offer API-based services, and today offer 100’s of them as a truly component-based bank service. They are taking this one step further with innovations such as Sender, which won best in show at Finovate New York in the fall.
Sender enables businesses to chat and exchange value with customers without the overhead of application development. Its promise is to save the bank’s customers hours of time and make communication and payments as easy as a Google Search. This built on their previous Finovate win in spring 2014 for the topless ATM.
Another interesting nuance with Privatbank is what they are doing with their branch network. Whilst recognising that digital innovations are critical to the bank’s future, they are also nurturing branch innovations. For example, most Ukrainians don’t trust shopping online so the bank has opened its own online shop. You walk into any Privatbank branch and one side will be dedicated to the online shopping service, along with a staff member to show you how to use it.
Like a Ukrainian Amazon, the bank offers services for customers to shop online in branch and pick up their orders in branch via a click and collect service. This is all automated using kiosks, so the customer just enters the branch and enters their pickup code. The machine then opens the compartment with their goods waiting, and off you go.
Even more amazing is that Privatbank is the largest used car dealer in the country as well. Yes, you heard me, they are a car dealership in both new and used cars. Customers arrive at the branch and can see the cars outside. If they want to buy one, they can just go into the branch and do a dealthere and then, including the loan.
There are so many things that Privatbank are doing that are worthy of note but, rather than being a shameless advert for the bank, they instead provided a shameless advert of me. There was the huge billboard outside the office, as mentioned, but also advertising at the premiership football match which they sponsor …
… and even a car with my name on it!
So, to finish the year, thanks to all of my Ukrainian friends and hosts for looking after me just before Christmas and, in return, you will find a few posts here over the next few days of how the Russians, Europeans and Chinese see the Ukraine situation. A situation brought home to me when I left the country and a gentleman at the airport said:
“You may think this is no matter, but when the Russians annexed the Crimea, they took my home off me.”
This gentleman had a second home in Crimea for the holidays, and it’s just been taken. No payment.
The bank said the same. When the situation flared up, the bank’s Russian business which had been built over many years, was just taken off them and sold to a Russian bank at cost. No discussion.
The central bank and Ukrainian banks are now doing all they can to stop the fighting in the East of Ukraine by no longer processing payments or supporting any Eastern Ukrainian business or consumer services. Equally, Ukrainians have withdrawn all of their deposits from the Russian banks that had a presence in the country.
This is a really bad situation. If you want to understand it, then read the blog this week. I haven’t written the posts that will follow but have scalped them from the best writing I found on the subject online.
Meanwhile, I wish all of my friends in Russia and the Ukraine happy New Year and hope that 2015 will find some peace. For all of my other friends, I wish the same too and note that there are issues in many countries, not just here. Wishing you well for 2015, all of you, and so Happy New Year.