Latvian Industry Transformation Story - Viktors Bolbats: the Latvian banking business undergoes vast, actually unveiling and promising transformations
Chairman of the Management Board of Baltic International Bank
Co-chair of the Finance Latvia Association Strategic Development Committee
The year 2018 marked the momentous changes for the Latvian banking sector, specifically in the service of local customers. In Latvia, banks have intensified their efforts to acquire new customers from the member countries of the EU and the EEA. To entice clientele, the banks offer them asset management services with good prospects for growth ahead. However, standard banking services are becoming increasingly important. To offer those services, the banks develop and use new channels for reaching their target customers.
The deposit structure has undergone drastic changes. Domestic deposits and deposits held by EU-based customers account for 90% of the sector-wide deposits.
For a number of financial professionals, including the key management personnel of Baltic International Bank, the need for the changes became obvious many years ago. Some of the banks decided not to delay in implementing the changes. After having gone through a very tough transition period, just those banks will be among the first ones who will feel the positive impact of the reforms, according to projections.
For instance, the shareholders and the Supervisory Board of Baltic International Bank made a whole series of relevant decisions already in 2016. A consistent implementation of those decisions changed Bank’s priorities, business pattern and orientations for the future. We adopted our new strategy at that point in time. We continue to adhere strictly to the strategy. Thereafter, the Supervisory Board, the Management Board and the key management personnel underwent a major reshuffling. To succeed in implementing the new strategy, we hired professionals whose experience enables Bank to diversify its services and broaden service offerings.
Many Latvian banks decided to switch over to the new business model. Along with the provision of services to international customers, the banks largely focus on individuals and small and mid-range businesses in Latvia. We combine those services with private banking, which involves providing personalized services to our customers, while using a wealth of experience gained. In Latvia, we are implementing a model already successfully used in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other European countries. It is clear that banks cannot provide private banking services on a mass scale. However, the situation has changed and now we are offering banking services to a wider range of clientele. There is now much greater awareness of investment products and benefits of investing amongst the public. The growing awareness fosters the implementation of the model.
The markets wherein Latvian banks operate also are at the center of the changes. For instance, we intend to maintain our presence in the traditional foreign markets such as EU Member States, as well as the United Kingdom and Ukraine. We have our representative office in London (UK) and Kyiv (Ukraine). I would like to emphasize that plenty of Latvian enterprises currently see development opportunities in Ukraine. Those enterprises actively establish or expand their businesses in Ukraine. World-renowned brands use their Latvia-based representative offices in order to launch their businesses in Ukraine. Bank is well able to help businesspeople by offering its knowledge, experience and contact points.
I have already previously mentioned that all banks, which share similar business principles and understanding of transactions, currently view Latvia, other Baltic States and EU/EEA countries as priority markets. Regardless of a quite severe competition, it is still possible to find a vacant niche in the market. Latvia-based small and mid-range businesses represent an unoccupied niche. Previously, large banks have not always showed their interest towards those businesses.
To work with the new customers successfully, it is essential to offer them services they really need (for example, we have embarked on issuing corporate bonds) and to ensure that the rates and fees are made accessible to a broad clientele. Businesspeople reap the benefits of competition among banks, especially in Latvia.
The year 2018 has not been an easy one in many ways. The volume of foreign deposits shrank from EUR 9 billion to nearly EUR 3.2 billion. In these challenging circumstances, every single bank needs to find new ways of working. The Finance Latvia Association’s accomplishments prove conducive to the transformation and change management. As a Co-chair of the Strategic Development Committee of the Finance Latvia Association, I attach paramount importance to the opportunity to be a negotiating partner of the Cabinet, the Ministry of Finance and the Financial and Capital Market Commission during the transformation process. I also highly appreciate the opportunity to delve into the details of the decisions and solutions and hence plan further activity of the banking sector.
The changeover period has been too short. We therefore cannot right now judge in broader terms about the profitability of each new business model. I agree with the viewpoints that have emerged regarding the results of the changes: we will get the clear picture after 2 to 3 years. Currently, we may conclude that the direction is right, the changes are quite drastic and deep, the events are reasonably encouraging, and we hope that the sector will be able to respond successively to the new challenges.
Published online at Delfi December 4, 2018