22 May Planning for the new normality in banking after COVID-19
Costas Mitropoulos, Chairman, Attica Bank, makes sense of an evolving environment for financial services
Greece has received global praise for its effective handling of the coronavirus crisis. Can you explain how it achieved this?
The Greek government, and in particular Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, were very quick to comprehend early on that we were facing a major health problem. Their reaction was swift and focused on minimizing the loss of life, something that has been achieved exceedingly well. The Prime Minister created a multidisciplinary task force, which was the only decision-making platform regarding COVID-19, and he was personally involved in its deliberations. Communication was regular, direct, well informed, humane and thus effective. People responded very positively with a tremendous show of self-discipline.
Over the course of the health crisis, decision making was data based and very responsive to new evidence. In parallel, the government instituted support measures for those suffering from the prevention measures, lessening both their economic and emotional burden. With the same civil service as nine months ago, by strengthening operational leadership and digitalizing interfaces, the government managed to contain the health situation without paralyzing the economy and with no political arguments. All in all, the handling of the coronavirus crisis by the Greek government is a test case in political crisis management.
Lockdowns across the world have had a radical impact on life and created entirely new paradigm in some countries. What, in your opinion, are the main lessons to be learned from the coronavirus crisis?
In my view, we do not yet have a paradigm shift as a result of the coronavirus. But there are insights and lessons learned that will prove valuable when we return to normality. First, we need to take good care of vital supply chains—like, for example, energy, telecoms and food—and ensure their continuity at all times. This will become particularly important as trading patterns are changing fast with the crisis. Second, technology was instrumental in retaining effectiveness in lockdown conditions. Remote working will expand in all sectors and will become the dominant mode in some of them. Digital transactions and interfaces are now embedded in every day life. Third, consumer attitudes and behaviors—such as in retail shopping, health care, personal entertainment and banking—have been influenced by the limitations and that will survive after the end of the measures.
Perhaps equally interesting are some observations on human conduct. People respond positively and become very cooperative when both a threat and the guidance on how to handle it are clear and persuasive. In Greece, solidarity manifested itself naturally and individual responses were positive when those two conditions were met. Human contact retained its value on the emotional but, most interestingly, also on the business side. It remains indispensable in doing business, in injecting creativity and in strengthening social coherence. Finally, data and evidence-based decision making proved to be dramatically more effective in handling a uniquely difficult situation, as comparisons between countries demonstrates.
Attica Bank is Greece’s fifth-largest bank. What is it doing to adapt to the new reality?
Neither the path to normality nor the new normality after COVID-19 are clear at the moment. Supply and demand imbalances, restrictive measures, behavioral changes, fiscal stretching and non-coordinated international actions make the dynamics difficult to read and act upon. So, for the time being, we are in reactive mode and trying to make sense of the evolving environment before finalizing our business plan. Nonetheless, we are focusing on four change areas: understanding our customers better and tailoring solutions to their expressed or felt needs, making remote working standard, digitalizing as fast and as much as we can, and strengthening our supervisory management that links everything together. When dealing with crisis and intense pressure, creativity comes out naturally and from many quarters. The only challenge is channeling that creativity to serve the long-term goals of the institution.