In 2007, Bulgaria became a member of the European Union. With regard to the banking sector, was there a change? And right now, there is a new challenge: the implementation of the Banking Union is under way. What are the current changes?
I can say that the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union, exacerbated the competition between banks in the country, but it also opened up new opportunities for local institutions. Several smaller banks entered the market, while others acquired their competitors. Fibank, for example, acquired 2 years ago MKB Unionbank which was previously owned by the German Bayern LB.
The corporate governance of Fibank is underpinned by the corporate governance principles of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (the Basel Committee), of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and by the guidelines of the European Banking Authority (EBA) on internal governance, thus exceeding the requirements of local legislation in Bulgaria. In this regard, no small part of the requirements of the Banking Union have already been adopted, and for Fibank the process will continue without changing the way we operate.
I have to mention here that for several years now Fibank has had a strategic partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC). In early 2014, an agreement was signed for examination and concrete actions on the development of good corporate governance and risk management of the Bank. This project is in continuation of a survey performed by the IFC back in 2010 on the implementation of international standards in good corporate governance, which Fibank rigorously implements in its activities.
Bulgaria has, according to the newest Eurostat data, one of the highest GDP growth rates and still one of the lowest public debt levels in the European Union. What is the Bank currently doing to help the Bulgarian economy grow even faster? What are the newest initiatives and services of Fibank planned for 2016?
Bulgaria’s accession to the common European family was definitely a great stimulus for our economy. In the first years of membership, our GDP increased by 8-12% per year, but the global economic crisis significantly decelerated this rate. In this line of thinking, we may say that the current economic indicators of the country are well below their potential, which I personally expect to be revealed in the next few years.
Referring to the economic crisis, I must say that Bulgarian banks such as Fibank proved to be significantly better prepared and limited its negative effects to a minimum. This allowed us, even in the worst years for lending in Bulgaria, to continue to support Bulgarian business. Fibank’s loans to corporate customers have been increasing by one of the fastest rates in the country. Just for the third quarter of this year, Fibank’s business loans grew by 3.9%, compared to an average of only 0.9% for the entire banking system for the same period.
We feel confident that in 2016 the Bulgarian economy will continue its positive performance, and business activity will increase. The expected effects of this will be lowering the unemployment rate and increasing the purchasing power of Bulgarians.
A priority of Fibank for 2016 will be lending to small and medium businesses which account for 80% of our economy. Already we have started offering combined packages of banking products and services to meet and facilitate the everyday needs of Bulgarian companies. The packages are specifically designed for businesses and help them perform their daily banking operations. Fibank’s new proposals provide preferential conditions for business customers, allowing optimization of bank charges and streamlining of procedures when using various banking services.
It was quite interesting to talk to you. Thank you and all the best!