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An interview with Michał Gajewski, CEO of Santander Bank Polska

  • [102-14] Statement from senior decision-maker Statement from senior decision-maker

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  • [102-15] Key impacts, risks and opportunities Key impacts, risks and opportunities

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  • [103-1, 103-2, 103-3] for the reporting Aspect: Accessibility of products and services for the reporting Aspect: Accessibility of products and services

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„Responsible banking is the responsibility towards the people with whom we interact: our employees, customers, shareholders and communities in which we operate.”

2018 brought about many changes in Santander Bank Polska. How would you briefly sum up that period of time in your bank?

Last year was abundant in challenges arising mainly from the implementation of large strategic projects. It was the time when we integrated a demerged part of Deutsche Bank Polska into our structure, carried out rebranding and implemented a new, Agile way of work. All the projects ended with success thanks to our vast experience in the execution of ambitious projects, access to the know-how of Santander Group and a great commitment of all our employees.

You are now the second largest financial group on the Polish market in terms of asset value. What does it mean for you?

It is a reason for great pride but also an equally great responsibility, mainly for maintaining and developing relationships with nearly 5 million customers of Santander Bank Polska  and close to 7 million customers of the SBP Group who have trusted us. Therefore, in our daily activities we will focus even more on enhancing mutual trust.

We are a member of the international Santander Group and one of the biggest players on the financial market in Poland. We are fully aware of our responsibility and impact on the environment. We realize very well that the banking sector and its perception can be projected  over the entire economy  and for that reason we attach so much significance to our Responsible Banking strategy. We are raising a similar awareness in our shareholders through our own projects and initiatives implemented in partnership with other banks.

Our ambition is to set trends and standards in this area. We strongly believe that responsible banking is the basis for a successful, innovative and sustainable development.

What does responsible banking mean specifically to Santander Bank Polska and you as its CEO?

It is mainly about the responsibility towards the people with whom we interact: our employees, customers, shareholders and communities in which we operate. The way I see it is that when you do everything the right way, you gain the trust and loyalty of people  around you. But if you fail to do things right, for instance you sell products in an unfair way, you lose the trust and loyalty in one second

The guiding principles for our activities include a personalized approach,  integrity, mutual respect and trust. That is why we do our best to express the terms of cooperation in a clear and comprehensible way and provide transparent information about the prices and the scope of services. The three words which epitomize our way of doing business is Simple, Personal, Fair. In our opinion, these are the pillars of sustainable growth on a highly competitive banking market and for that reason we have incorporated Responsible Banking principles into all processes of managing our organization, as the first financial institution in Poland. In Santander Bank Polska, Responsible Banking is not only a business strategy but also our approach to daily activities.

Our compass in both the short-term and long-term perspective is the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. In addition to our stakeholders, Santander Bank Polska  also feels responsible for the entire society. Using our financial potential in a right way we can not only grow our business but also contribute to overcoming many of the local, national and even global challenges which we are facing today.

Is responsible banking possible without responsible leadership? What is, in your opinion, the role of the Management Board in building the culture of responsible management and responsible selling?

You cannot build a responsible organization without responsible executives. And I mean here not only Board Members but also all managers, as the example always comes from the top. Our activities and behaviours must be consistent with the values and standards of Responsible Banking.

Is there no conflict between responsible banking and making money? Can you be a responsible bank and, at the same time, remain profitable and grow your business?

Across the entire Santander Group, responsible banking is treated as a foundation for the stable development of business so we generate profits. We believe that acting  responsibly is the only way  to gain the lasting trust and loyalty of customers, employees and shareholders and trust and loyalty is nowadays the main source of a competitive advantage on a highly competitive market of financial services.

Customer-centricity is a term which you get to hear recently as often as innovativeness. What is customer-centricity about according to Santander Bank Polska and what do you do to make sure that customers actually are in the centre of all your activities?

Our goal is to be a bank responding to customer needs.  That is how the Account As I Want It came to be – an innovative product developed in partnership with customers and based on their expectations. It is the first bank account on the market which allows customers to decide freely which features and services they want to use.

Long-term relationships based on trust and dialogue are a priority for us. Therefore, when we launch new products, services or initiatives we start from analysing the needs of the future users from many different perspectives. We also take into account the feedback and suggestions from customers on an ongoing basis. In order to work better and faster, last year we began to implement Agile ways of work. This approach helps us identify the expectations of customers more effectively and test new solutions faster in order to reduce the time to market.

The present needs of customers and the proposed solutions are very closely linked with technology. This is, on the one hand, an opportunity, but also a source of  new cyberthreats. Is it an important issue for you and for Santander Bank Polska?

Our customers spend more and more time living in the digital world which relies on new technologies and the Internet. Therefore, we focus on innovations, both for retail and business customers. One of the key areas is the development of payment solutions where we see a great potential for driving up customer satisfaction and loyalty. As the first bank in Poland, we have offered our customers all types of digital payments available on the Polish market, using a smartphone in Santander mobile, by BLIK, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Fitbit Pay and Garmin Pay. We also invest in blockchain solutions, robotization, artificial intelligence and Big Data analyses.

But the main criterion for selecting new technologies is the digital security of our customers. In addition to using advanced security solutions, such as facial, voice or fingerprint biometrics and multi-level authorisation, we provide information and education in the area of cybersecurity.

If you were to mention the biggest challenges last year and the lessons learned, what would that be?

The first major challenge was the process of a simultaneous legal and operational acquisition of the demerged business of Deutsche Bank Polska. It was an unprecedent undertaking in the Polish financial sector. Within only 72 hours, 60 TB of data from all areas were effectively migrated and 400,000  retail and business customers were successfully transferred into the systems of Santander Bank Polska. Additionally, as a result of the acquisition the bank had to change its employment structure. The related elimination of jobs is always a big challenge and a difficult process. But what the experience has taught us is that when you listen to each other carefully and work together on finding the best solution for both parties, it turns out to be possible.

Another huge challenge was the rebranding and renaming of the bank to Santander Bank Polska. During the 3-day operation, we changed the signage of 673 branches and partner outlets and the labelling and screen layout of 1,730 ATMs and CDMs. We have launched 29  new card design images, updated 140 IT systems and revised 1,837 internal regulations and document templates. SE have replaced all bank forms, business cards, stamps and advertising and  information materials. The online and mobile banking platforms got new names and a new look. The coordination of this immense operation required appointment of an interdisciplinary team to make sure the process will be efficient and friendly to our customers. Bearing in mind the scale of the project, you cannot expect everything to be 100% trouble-free but we have learned that if we act together we can overcome any difficulties which might occur.

The third challenge which we faced last year, as has already been mentioned, was the launch of the Agile methodology of work. It was a major change, affecting not only our structure and organization, but also the daily culture of our work. In this case, we have gained not so much a learning lesson but rather a reassurance that the best strategic solutions are the ones which improve customers’ experience. Investments in a cultural transformation are worthwhile as they have a great impact on customer satisfaction.

You have referred to the last year as the year of challenges. What would you call the current year?

At the end of 2019, I would be glad if I could say that it was a year of responsible banking, not only for our institution but for the entire banking sector. Santander Bank Polska is already working hard to be able to sum up the present year in these exact words.