Alior Bank in Poland is an universal bank providing services to both individual and businesses customers. One of the main Alior Bank’s strategy is to be a partner for SME customers, to help and support them to start and grow their businesses.
Here you can watch and read the interview with Krzysztof Czuba, Deputy CEO at Alior Bank, about partnering SME customers in banking.
Ewa Małecka, Editor of Zafirmowani.pl:
You are responsible for, among other things, the bank’s customer relations. How do you ensure good customer relations, so that customers see the bank as a partner?
Krzysztof Czuba, Deputy CEO at Alior Bank:
The most important thing is the people, the bankers, so you have to make sure that customers have contact with very professional people. That is the only way customers will believe that they are being served properly. You need to provide substantive customer support so as to build this kind of trust. And we are doing this in such a way that our bankers are properly prepared to be partners for our business customers. Then we place them either in regional centers, where they can exchange their experience and prepare offers for customers in a better way, in small-business centers for customers that are doing business on a small scale, and we even have an offer that is available at every bank branch that we adjust for our micro-customers. In addition, it is important to adjust our offer to meet each customer’s needs, to be comprehensive, to cover every service the customer needs, so that they don’t have to look for support anywhere else, so that working with us is convenient for the customer.
EM: What is the main factor that leads to good sales?
KC: First of all, it’s about adjusting your offer to the market environment, to customers’ needs, to what is happening in the market and the trends there. What competitors are doing is also very important, what is going on in the world. It is important for us that our customers in Poland have the same level of services and products that are available globally. The Polish banking system is a leader in innovation, but adjusting our offer to meet customers’ needs is the key. Besides this, of course, the quality of the services we provide is also essential. Customers are paying attention to the quality of cooperation more and more nowadays, and this creates an advantage that can lead to good sales results later. In terms of quality, our customers have indicated that this is related to speed—fast transactions, very quick access to their accounts, loans in 24 hours; we even provide loans of up to 500,000 for terms of up to five years. These are the things that have an impact on how a customer perceives us, and a good perception on the part of customers leads to good sales results.
EM: You mentioned quality and that it’s essential in customer service. But what can a lack of quality lead to? What might make a potential customer avoid the company or decide not to buy a product from the company?
KC: What we see, and what different researchers have said, is the quality of customer service, meaning the substantive value that it provides. So, if a customer encounters a banker or other person who is not suitable to their needs, who doesn’t know the offer and who has difficulty understanding the customer’s needs, the poor quality of customer service will result in a deterioration of that relationship, and the customer will leave. This is the main reason why customers leave. The second thing that is very important—and it’s also connected with the first one point—is, if the bank doesn’t keep up with customers’ needs, doesn’t keep up with changes in customers’ needs, and this is a very dynamic thing. Customers do not have the same needs over a period of several years; they are constantly changing, even on a month-by-month basis. If we can’t adjust our offer to changing customer needs, this has an impact on the customer; they don’t feel comfortable, they have to look for the support at other banks and organizations, so quality deteriorates, and the customer leaves. Losing customers represents the main loss for the bank, so we try not to let this happen.
EM: Yes, so the offer is very important, and the innovativeness of that offer as well. What innovative products does Alior Bank offer its customers?
KC: We try to provide omnichannel access to our services. For example, we have virtual bankers, which provide 100% remote service, so customers don’t have to visit a branch. This service is linked to an e-account, which customers can open and then use purely online or via mobile banking, and we also offer a bonus of PLN 1,500 for entrepreneurs who use such an account. Also, as I mentioned earlier, we have a very fast lending process. Today, we are offering our customers PLN 500,000 in 24 hours for a term of up to five years, so for investments that are taking place in a very short period, such modern lending products are very important for customers. Additionally, we are really developing our leasing offer, leasing in its traditional form and also in the form of loans that are very similar to standard business loans for companies and entrepreneurs. And it is also important to note that we can help in getting EU funds, which helps entrepreneurs receive extra investments in addition to bank loans.
EM: There’s a lot of buzz now about startups and support for startups. How does Alior Bank support startups?
KC: First of all, we have a loan called Start Business, which we prepared together with the European Investment Fund. This is a product for every company that is starting up right now. Any company can apply for financing of up to PLN 100,000 for a term of up to five years, so this amount is available for pure startups. And as I also mentioned, we provide access to knowledge about other sources of funding, EU funds and not only, which are available for entrepreneurs, and we help to identify and get such additional financing. In additional—this is also connected with innovations—we have launched the portal Zafirmowani.pl, which is very also helpful for startups. For example, you can find information on the portal about how to open a business, how to do your accounting, what your taxes are and how to do your accounting for free. So, this is a modern tool for companies that are already operating, but particularly for those that are just starting a business.
EM: What would you recommend from your own experience for people who are starting a business? Can you provide any advice?
KC: First of all, not to start a business without a business plan, which is something we prepare for a period of three years, with a detailed analysis not only of possibilities, but also of risks, to take your time and not to open a business in a hurry, because these are decisions that can have both positive and negative financial results. But when your business plan is ready, it’s good to consult with people who have experience not only in that particular sector but in business in general, which you often lack—sort of mentoring. Some people are afraid to do this, but it’s worth consulting with someone. And when you have your business plan, then you should decide whether you have enough capital and if not and you need more, or if increased capital could give you more comfort to start, then you should look for support either by taking out a bank loan or crowdfunding, or looking for a strategic investor, which is also a good solution. So, there is a range of solutions that can help you get initial capital. All this information is available on Zafirmowani.pl, which we have launched, and there is a lot of knowledge there that will help you avoid mistakes when opening a business.