ianfranco Bisagni and Niccolò Ubertalli, Co-CEOs of Commercial Banking Central and Eastern Europe, share their insights on the challenges faced in CEE countries and talk about how UniCredit's banks have responded to the Covid-19 crisis
How has the crisis affected the CEE?
Gianfranco Bisagni: CEE countries were hit slightly later than Italy and it was helpful to coordinate with colleagues who were already in the midst of handling the crisis . As in other countries, we swiftly put in place measures to support employees and customers, accelerating a digital transformation that was already happening.
Has it had a different impact in different CEE markets?
Niccolò Ubertalli: Every CEE country has taken a different approach in terms of timing and severity of restrictions. As One Bank, we benefitted from the Group’s fast response in other markets and were able to act in a unified way. Even before official recommendations were in place, we started putting our measures in place, including strengthening remote working, distributing protective equipment to employees and reorganising branch opening hours.
How did your banks in the CEE respond or adapt to the crisis?
GB: We are very proud of the flexibility and adaptability of our banks. Thanks to everyone’s efforts and fast response, we promptly implemented business continuity plans through well-coordinated teams in all countries. This was also recognised by local regulators, who have acknowledged our efforts to ensure the highest safety standards for employees and customers, all of this while keeping our business open and running.
What examples can you give us of the bank or its employees making an effort to help customers or communities during the crisis?
NU: There has been a lot of good deeds! As an example, colleagues in the branches supported the Hungarian and Croatian call centres to handle inbound calls. We have also delivered several digital initiatives, such as launching the Mobile App CZ in Czech Republic and Slovakia, and upgrading the app in Bosnia. In Slovenia, as a result of joint cooperation between local Retail, GBS and CRO we have rolled out a digital and automated process for moratoria applications – to accept requests and then exchanging annexes with clients.
In addition, CEE CIB plays a key role in helping clients access to government support schemes. Across the Group, we also helped our suppliers by paying them faster, adding liquidity to the economy.
GB: In these uncertain times we have noticed an increased demand for views from our research team. They remain very close to our clients, hosting online conferences to keep them updated with valuable analyses.
Our employees also demonstrated high level of solidarity in participating in UniCredit Foundation fundraising activity but also setting up local ones in order to support their communities in these difficult times. Again, we were One Team, One UniCredit!
What has the crisis meant for employees in the region?
GB: It is clear that the crisis has a big impact on our jobs and families. We all had to make significant changes to our ways of living almost overnight, ranging from shifting to remote working to adjusting to new family routines, including doing homeschooling with our kids. To help our employees through these challenges, the bank has provided welfare services such as psychological support. We are both extremely impressed by the response from our teams, who have continued to show relentless energy and positivity with their usual high level of professionalism to ensure our high standards for all our clients.
How are you personally coping with the change and the challenge? Has it been difficult to run a multiple-country business from your home office?
GB: I learnt a lot about our ability to adapt and face challenges as a strong team. It’s been incredibly encouraging to see that even from remote locations, we adapted very quickly to the new circumstances. This is also thanks to technology and I am grateful that we have the possibility to manage a business like this from our homes.
NU: I have been super impressed with everyone in our 10 countries. They all immediately understood the impact this situation would have on people and business, reacting promptly, with the highest level of professionalism and dedication. We all worked tirelessly, facing daily changes yet ensuring business continuity and the safety of our people. Now more than ever it is clear that we are One Team!
What is your message for your UniCredit colleagues across the Group?
GB: This crisis has really showed how we can truly rely on each other to support our people and businesses across the Group. Local circumstances were different, yet we have been ahead of the curve in each country.
NU: This experience has shown that we have a great team, and teamwork is the best asset to overcome obstacles and challenges. Our support for each other has spread faster than the virus and we are very proud of this!
"Our support for each other has spread faster than the virus and we are very proud of this!"
Niccolò Ubertalli, Co-CEO Commercial Banking CEE