Women in Leadership #3
Thursday 10 June 2021
Teodora Petkova tells us how she faces challenges turning them into starting points to improve. Supporting clients, companies and colleagues with dedication and flexibility.
UniCredit’s series Women in Leadership highlight the roles, expertise and commitments of some of its female executives operating in the different countries and areas of the business in which the bank operates.
Our third interviewee is Teodora Petkova, Head of Eastern Europe and currently CEO and Chairman of the Management board of UniCredit Bulbank (until the appointment of a new CEO), who tells us about her career in the financial sector, gives us an outlook of the current situation in Bulgaria and how the bank is supporting companies and clients in its constant commitment to being part of the solution in these challenging times.
What is the current economic situation in Bulgaria and how are companies reacting to the crisis?
Just like many other countries, Bulgaria started 2021 with strict anti-pandemic restrictions (such as closures of school, restaurants, shopping malls, gyms, etc.) that led to a weak start of the economy. The recovery of the country's economy depends to a large extend on the development of the health crisis and the pace of vaccination of the population.
Spring brought with it the long-awaited positive news and in the last weeks we are witnessing a decline in the new infections. The improvement not only brought back some hope for our social and personal lives, but has also started revitalizing the economy as the closed businesses have opened again.
According to the forecast of our macroeconomic team, 2021 will bring a slight recovery to the economy and an increase of 2.6% in the GDP (after a decline of 4.2% in 2020).
In these difficult times, what is important for us, is to stay close to our customers – to be not only their bank, but also their partner. Partnership means being there for each other and supporting each other through challenges. At UniCredit Bulbank we truly believe that partnerships are making us stronger.
This is why we are always ready to listen to the needs of our clients – whether they need to defer their credit installments or if they need a loan for a new project. We are open for business and our position is that we want to be an accelerator of the recovery, that we are part of the solution, without compromising risk.
Without sounding like a cliché, I would like to add that I believe that the crisis also brings a number of opportunities. I believe that Covid-19 has made us more flexible, and that we are in a better shape to respond to changing customer requirements. Furthermore, we provide customers with a safer way to do business - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What are your key take-aways from the pandemic? Which initiatives are you most proud of?
2020 was a year in which I took an accelerated course in management, as well in humanity. All of my take-aways are related to how important achieving balance is: balance between the company's short-term problems and its long-term strategy; balance between the speed and direction of desired change while keeping the foundations of the company unchanged; balance between the need to make quick decisions and make the right decisions. Last but not least, it is also very important to find the balance between being very critical, wanting to change a lot of things but also celebrating the victories achieved. In our desire to change things that don't work or can work better, sometimes we can forget to celebrate success, and that's very important for any company, big or small.
I also want to share how proud I am of the team at UniCredit Bulbank and congratulate colleagues. During this challenging year we really managed to do a lot – we stayed close to our clients, supporting them with moratoriums, stabilization measures and individual solutions, we protected the health and wellbeing of our clients and colleagues and bolstered additional innovation so as to offer many of our services remotely. We allowed clients to reach the bank via phone, doing almost everything remotely: opening an account, applying for a loan, buying securities, signing agreements or rescheduling loans.
In 2020, payments for utilities through online banking increased by 50%. Since the beginning of 2019, our mobile banking customers have grown by over 65% and are now half a million people.
This trend will certainly continue, especially with the change of generations. However, I believe that traditional branches also have their place, and we will always be close to our customers.
As a woman in an executive role what advice would you give women working in the financial sector?
It is very important to encourage women to work in the financial sector, including in leadership roles. One thing I can say for sure is that women who want to make career are in the right place and that I strongly believe in our Group’s diversity & inclusion approach and initiatives.
As Picasso says, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”. In this respect, my advice to women is to keep working with inspiration and heart. We do face the challenges but, in the meantime, we turn them into starting points to improve.
I believe that women in an executive role should lead their teams with empathy and at the same time with timely and firm decisions. Recently, I read that according to Google empathy is the skill of the future.
Can you tell us more about your career journey and your current role?
My whole career path is in UniCredit. I started working in UniCredit Bulbank as a credit analyst in 2002. Since then, I really changed different roles and positions in risk and business divisions, I also took part in some key transformational projects. Hence, I really grew step by step, gaining experience and managerial skills. No matter what I never changed my employer, I have had the dynamics, challenges and adrenaline that have kept me more often outside my comfort zone.
In 2019 I took on the position of CEO of UniCredit Bulbank and at that moment I considered it my biggest challenge - to retain the success of UniCredit Bulbank. The success of the bank does not lie in the status quo, but in the speed with which it adapts to the new customer preferences and the constantly evolving technologies. We have started a complete transformation of the bank and the most important thing is the organisation’s culture. At the same time, the fundamentals remain unchanged - the overall goal is to provide simple banking based on ethics and respect.
Now, an even bigger challenge is in front of me as I have been given the opportunity to be part of UniCredit’s Group Executive Committee as Head of Eastern Europe. According to the Cambridge Dictionary “challenge” means (the situation of being faced with) something that needs great effort in order to be done successfully and therefore tests a person’s ability. This is totally in line with my understanding that we are faced with challenges so that we can show the best we are capable of. But I would add something more – to overcome challenges we need a strong team. That said, I am happy that I will work with the fantastic colleagues from our banks in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia and Russia.
We will work together, not only within the teams of these countries, but with the structures of the whole Group. The more diverse we are, the more we can collaborate and support each other so that we all contribute to UniCredit’s success.
What are your expectations for the future?
Despite the pandemic, economic development in numerous sectors shows that we can look to the future with optimism. Of course, expectations depend heavily on the course of the infection - and above all on the success of the vaccination. Some sectors such as the industrial sector are already doing very well. We also see very positive signals in many service sectors and in the construction industry, while for others, such as the hospitality sector, the recovery will take longer. All in all, there are good reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Many things will remain. For example, access to remote work, which we had already implemented before the crisis and which has now been significantly expanded. However, I am particularly looking forward to the personal talks with our customers again. The personal contact in the companies, meetings at events, the conversation beyond the purely business-related, that remains irreplaceable for me.