TBC Bank: A prompt response for SMEs in Georgia
Natia Vacharadze, Tribe Lead of Business Segment Management at TBC in Georgia, spoke with Efma’s Lukas Dzuroska about the bank’s ability to smoothly transition to remote work while continuing a high level of service for their customers.
2020 has been an outstanding and significant year in which many financial institutions have shown compassion and provided fast first aid packages to their SME clients who were hit hardest by the pandemic. Through a series of articles in the coming months, Efma is highlighting some best practices from banks in different geographies to show how to support SMEs in a time of crisis. TBC is one such example in Georgia. In this interview, we spoke with their Head of Business Segment Management to better understand the lengths they have gone to for their SME clients.
Recent reports show that SMEs are considerably weakened by the Covid-19 crisis. What has the situation been like in your country?
While Covid-19 hit Georgia in late February, the government acted firmly to limit public health losses. However, these strict measures have deeply impacted the economic and social outlook. SMEs haven't been spared with 67% suffering a major (>25%) decline in sales. The impact has been most pronounced in tourism, a key sector of the economy (which accounts for ~20% of GDP) with 40% of businesses reporting a complete loss in revenue. SMEs were slow to act in boosting sales and adapting operations. Companies were forced to discharge their workers.
What were the immediate first steps that you have taken as a bank internally to cope with the crisis and faster respond to clients?
TBC was one of the first companies to respond promptly to the spread of the virus in its early stages, developing an anti-crisis plan for both employees and clients and, despite the unprecedented nature of the crisis, instantly mobilizing financial, human, and intellectual resources to overcome the challenges existing in the country.
TBC’s initial step was to offer a three-month grace period on loan payments to individuals, owners of micro, small and medium-size businesses and to all major businesses which operate in tourism, food and industries that require social gatherings. The grace period applied to both down payments and interest rates. Clients received detailed information individually via remote channels, without having to visit branches. Later, the grace period was extended for three more months for clients who were most heavily affected by the crisis.
TBC, as one of the largest companies in the region, has taken into account the recommendations of the World Health Organization regarding the current situation and has shifted to remote working as much as possible. Right now, around 95% of our back-office staff work from home.
TBC has created a program to support the population of Georgia called TBCforyou, which combines all the projects initiated by TBC to reduce the damage caused by COVID-19. 5 million GEL was allocated to overcome the challenges. At the same time, the online platform - www.tbcforyou.ge has been launched, gathering all digital services of TBC and its partners, in order to help users access digital services. The focus is on supporting the population and businesses, distance education, online commerce and many other services that make life easier for customers in this new reality.
How are you helping your SME customers face the impact of the covid-19 crisis?
There are three main directions were TBC supports businesses to adopt to the new reality:
• Benefits for banking products and services - with discounts or totally free of charge services and grace periods on loan payments.
• Online business education - all the trainings done for businesses were immediately transferred to ZOOM and up to 3,000 business representatives were trained online.
• Supporting the digitalization of businesses - as digital transformation and distance service is very critical we launched several initiatives to support this need:
• TBC and VISA have launched an initiative for companies called “Create your own online store”. Businesses can create their own online stores in the shortest time, through which they will be able to sell and deliver products throughout Georgia. 200 Georgian companies got this service free of charge. At this stage, 110 companies operate with new online shops. The monthly website service fee has been waived for these businesses until the end of the year.
• TBC and the online commerce platforms Vendoo.ge and My.ge also started to collaborate in support of local entrepreneurs and businesses. As part of this initiative, fees were automatically reduced for entrepreneurs cooperating with this platform.
• Free Delivery service for 100 Startup companies - the “Startuperi” program and the new courier company “Mimo”, part of the TBC ecosystem, have launched a joint initiative with start-up businesses. As part of the offer, the first 100 startups that will become customers of “Mimo” will receive courier services for one month completely free of charge. The digital courier company “Mimo”, which appeared on the market recently, offers customers high quality services, controlling orders online and fast delivery services throughout Georgia.
Did Covid-19 have an impact on your SME customers’ to move them towards digital banking? Do you have any figures that might demonstrate this?
Following the bank’s strategy to become fully digital, TBC already had a high share in digital products/services, but Covid-19 has of course sped the process up. We have launched numerous banking and non-banking digital products/services through 2020, including Business Financial Manager, Invoicing, revamped digital onboarding and launched the brand-new Business Mobile app, which serves as an assistant to business owners and decision makers to better engage through their daily operations. 38% of newly registered customers are through digital onboarding, which includes registering as a customer, opening a current account, and acquiring all basic products. Furthermore, 90%+ transactions are processed via digital channels, 23% of our customers are using the new mobile app, though it has been launched only for several months now and 20%+ of them are daily active, which is one of the main objectives for us - to engage our users daily and support their day-to-day business needs.
How have your relationship managers served SME customers during the pandemic? Did you have to change your way of working and do more remote work? Has it been a smooth transition?
We have shifted all MSME RMs to remote from the beginning of the pandemic, although we have never stopped businesses financing and all the services and products were available in remote (contact center) or digital for the comfort and security of our employees and clients. After lockdown, TBC had made a decision to give head office employees the choice to work from where they prefer (it is a very innovative approach for the Georgian market and for the bank in particular). We decided to give the same choice to MSME RMs, and today >50% of them work remotely. Today, we can say for sure that efficiency and customer experience have not suffered from these changes and we had a quite smooth transition.