OTP Bank Albania: Establishing a firm foundation to serve Albania’s dynamic economy and society 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 19, 2023 12:41

OTP Bank Albania: Establishing a firm foundation to serve Albania’s dynamic economy and society 

Story Highlights

  • The bank is serving promising developments in several areas of the economy, including tourism, agriculture and energy. 

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OTP Bank Albania CEO Bledar Shella

Hungary’s largest OTP Bank Group entered Albania’s market four years ago, and its subsidiary OTP Bank Albania has recently grown further through a merger, positioning itself to to serve a greater portion of Albania's economy, which it sees as a dynamic and promising. 

The bank is serving developments in several areas of the economy, including tourism, agriculture and energy, OTP Bank Albania CEO Bledar Shella tells Tirana Times in an interview.

OTP is also serving as a gateway for other Hungarian companies to invest in Albania, part of a recent trend in large Hungarian investments in telecommunications and transport. “Where OTP is present, so are the Hungarian businesses,” says Mr. Shella.

Moreover, the bank is working with development organizations to help bring economic growth that is socially and environmentally friendly and that helps local communities thrive. 

Below is our full Q&A with OTP Bank Albania CEO Bledar Shella:

- Mr. Shella, can you tell us about the decision making behind OTP entering the Albanian market four years ago? 

OTP Bank entered the Albanian market officially by the end of March 2019, after signing an agreement with Societe Generale for the acquisition of the latter’s shares in Societe Generale Albania. 

When entering the market, the highest representative of the OTP Group, CEO Sándor Csányi said that OTP evaluated the Albanian market as an economy and market with potential growth. For OTP Bank, Albania is a small but very dynamic country, promising development in several areas of the economy, such as tourism, agriculture, energy and other fields of application.

The banking sector per se has further optimisation opportunities, which came illustrated by our recent acquisition of the Alpha Bank Albania shares. This way clients of both banks shall gain benefits of a higher synergy produced by joining the best aspects of these banks in all directions: products, services, prices, network and innovation evolutions, which all naturally come out of mergers. With fewer banks in the market, they reach an optimal number for the given customer base. With scale, banks can invest more in progress and technology.  

- What are OTP Bank’s priorities in the Albanian market? 

As the merger work is still ongoing, at the moment we speak -- we have already executed two of the three phases -- the utmost importance remains with keeping the good service running, this being associated with the smooth functioning of all technological applications and services. It is vital for us to focus on serving customers in the best way possible in light of the complicated process of the merger. There is an expected shift in certain practices with which customers are used to, hence it is our duty to make them feel as familiar as possible with potentially new practices and account managers. 

Nonetheless, it is a prerequisite to not only focus on the merger, but also keep the business at its best performing levels. We need to be there for our customers who are looking for financing and investment plans, in all segments -- individuals and businesses alike. Our bank is looking to expand market share in all parameters and this seeks high alert for growth possibilities. 

- Your recent expansion and merger of two legacy banks under your brand has made you one of the largest banks in Albania, how has that experience been? 

It has been our long-time belief that our bank was meant to have a larger role. To us, it has been merely a matter of time until we realized that aspiration. We have long strived to enlarge, and we’ve worked hard to achieve this. 

Being presented with the opportunity, it made logical sense to go through with the merger. Besides the complexity of such mergers, which is the case anywhere in the world, we are also adjusting ourselves to a greater size. However, we have been ready to welcome the challenge of being a larger bank. We have great experts and teams, as we also have the eagerness to be a top-ranked bank. 

Overall, the project is considered successful. First, we accomplished the legal merging where the two business entities became one under the OTP Albania Bank brand name. It was done in a record time, within four and a half months. We are proceeding with the technological merging where all data is already transferred to Tirana from Greece, and the transferring of all online banking customers to one unified platform, the OTP Online Banking solution. At this very moment, the cards are being worked on so that soon all customers will bear OTP Branded Cards and all cards are processed by one card processor, the one where OTP Bank Albania is hosted. 

The last one, is the technical merging, where the core banking shall be merged into one. The optimal service will be used for that purpose. 

- Your bank is working with EBRD and EU in certain development projects, can you tell us a little bit more about this?

EBRD has been our partner for years now. We’ve found common purposes that match with our business objectives as well as with the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) program of the OTP Group, one of the high priority strategic approaches.

Earlier, we’ve been partners in Green Financing, where we incentivized individuals to invest in energy efficiency products in the respective household. The same was done through another line for businesses.

At present, we have a pure incentivizing product for businesses in Agro-Tourism. It is in the scope of the agreement to focus on the upgrade of these businesses' systems, infrastructure, both for SME and corporate businesses. 

In addition, there is the upgrade of work safety, environmental protection, investment in renewable energy such as photovoltaic panels, product safety and overall product-level upgrades. 

In regards to the Agro and Tourism sectors, this agreement stands on a risk-sharing policy. 

These opportunities are now more tangible than ever, especially with the cash-back incentive, whereupon the meeting of criteria, a part of the investment is provided back to the investor. 

- It seems like OTP is part of a trend of Hungarian investments in Albania, where in addition to you being a major bank, there are companies making large inroads in areas like telecommunications and transport. What’s driving this renewed focus of Hungarian-owned companies like yours into Albania?

Albania is an interesting country to invest in. Where OTP is present, so are the Hungarian businesses. Telecommunication and Transport are among strategic economic sectors and a bank can make agreements easier with banking guarantees, financial, and credit notes. 

Also, the daily banking is easier when both the parent company and the banking group head offices are in Hungary. It is a normal and expected symbiotic relationship that occurs in similar occasions. 

- Can you tell us a little bit about how the bank is working with the community as part of its corporate social responsibility mission?

Our main investment goes to ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance investing], a strategic decision, an agreement that impacts the corporation in almost all its components.

Environmentally speaking, we are committed to gradually go fully green, speaking here about how the bank itself shall operate as well as how our customers shall abide. Socially, the bank is committed to meet the best human resource policies, while never forgetting our contribution to the community. We support activities related to literacy, culture and sports. Increasing financial education is also a must for us. Governance is the third component, where our bank aligns fully to the best compliance principles, by ensuring that the business operations are 100 percent ethical, transparent and meeting the customer’s best interest. 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 19, 2023 12:41