We took a look in Andre Gardella’s life and work.
Before we start interview, please add few sentences what you are doing and what is your company’s mission…
I am the CEO and a board member of SKB Banka, and at the same time the Country Head for the Société Générale Group in Slovenia. SKB Banka is a universal bank, offering a very wide range of banking services and products both to individuals and legal entities – from SPs to large multinational corporates. SKB Banka belongs to Société Générale, a Global SIFI (Global Systematically Important Bank) according to the ECB regulation. SKB Banka ranks between #3 and #4 among Slovene banks, depending on the selected criterion, but it ranks #1 as long as efficiency, measured by the C/I ratio, is concerned : 57% vs an average of 66% for the Slovene Banking System.
In 2017, SKB Banka was awarded as Best Bank in Slovenia by The Banker, by Euromoney, and by Global Finance.
If you could design the perfect morning on a working day, what would it look like?
I wake up at 6 am and have breakfast with my family. Sky is blue, and sun is already shining: I decide to skate till the office. During our alignment meeting, I learn that an important corporate client chose SKB to finance a strategic investment: he is satisfied with our services, we are happy to commit our balance sheet to support it.
On the retail side, production of consumer and housing loans is increasing, so as the number of clients who decide to invest in the Amundi’s Mutual Funds distributed by our bank. After the alignment meeting, I chair the Clients’ Experience committee. I receive the last report from our partner Ipsos: NPS – Net Promoter Score, which measures clients’ satisfaction, is increasing. Then, on the Projects Committee, I monitor the volution our Transform – to – Grow projects: all of them are on track, progressing according to the plans. Morning has gone, time to go and have a quick lunch, with a fresh beer.
What was your expectations before coming to Slovenia, to Ljubljana? Was it a challenge?
In my past jobs within the Société Générale Group, I had the opportunity to work on very diverse positions, and to manage corporate finance business units, or specialized entities in the field of online banking, and consumer finance. For the first time, I was offered the opportunity to manage a universal bank, in the Euro zone – with the complexity this implies. Switching from a Brazilian working environment, in a town like São Paulo, to a Slovene working environment, made obviously the move even more spicy.
How would you assess the situation in Slovenian Banking?
We have far too many banks in Slovenia : 12, in a country of around 2 million inhabitants. It does not make a lot of sense. Consolidation is ongoing, big players such as NLB, Abanka and Gorenjska Banka are expected to change somehow their ownership structure in the forthcoming months and quarters. And one can expect Apollo to sell NKBM, somewhen after they finish its restructuring. More than 50% of the Slovene banking assets could pass from a hand to another one in the short or medium term! In the meantime, non-banking players are increasing their competitive pressure on some parts of our value chain, mainly driven by the digital revolution.
The banking industry is at the beginning of a deep transformation, and only the ones that face this reality, and adapt quickly, will be able to survive.
Is there anything that is holding up your activities, for example fiscal or macro environment in Slovenia?
Macro environment is globally favorable to business in Slovenia: education is very good, infrastructures too, and the Country is politically stable. Growth is significant, and is expected to be still quite high next year. Tax legislation has its own peculiarities, but I would not consider it as something that holds up our business.
The very two problems I face, as the CEO of a bank, are (i) the lack of qualified human resources in the market: this is due to the size of the Country, and to the exceptional growth we are experiencing, and (ii) a legislation on privacy that makes any effort to digitalize the business quiet complex. Can you believe that, in 2018, I am authorized to keep one paper copy of a client’s ID document… but not a PDF version of the same document? This prevents us from introducing more digitalized processes, which in turn result, ceteris paribus, in higher prices for the consumers.
How do you expect your company’s total employment to change over the next year?
I do not expect big changes in SKB Banka’s total employment in the very next years. But the stability in global figures might be misleading, some jobs will probably disappear, and some other, different jobs, will appear.
Increasing use of technology allows us to reallocate resources from manual, operational tasks, to higher added value functions, in order to reach a double target: (i) meet increasingly tough regulatory requirements, and (ii) increase our clients’ satisfaction.
Is Slovenia an open country for foreign investors? I am aware we are attractive country for investors but is Slovenia open and ready for them or are we afraid?
Slovenia is certainly a very attractive Country for foreign investors, for the reasons mentioned above. Nevertheless, one can sometimes have the impression that these investments are at the same time wished and feared. The Country has courageously chosen to anchor its destiny to the EU, and to the Euro. But it does not always seem to accept all the consequences of this choice, as shown recently by the failed privatization of NLB.
The government is still very much present in several industries, the strategic relevance of which is debatable, and this finally leads to a biased competition, that can prevent some investors from entering the market.
How would you describe a Slovenian worker compared to the rest of the world, for instance Brazilians?
I have been managing SKB Banka only for few months, I can therefore only share some superficial impressions at this stage. One of the things that is probably most striking is the reliability of the Slovenian workers: as long as the job description is clear, tasks are performed in an efficient way. Education is good, on average, and you do not need much time to feel it, a few meetings are enough.
Another positive impression is about team work: people work well together and like to work together. What maybe is a bit less present, especially when comparing with Brazil, is creativity: people are so better organized, so better structured, that they do not always dare to think out of the box. Though I must say that I am quite lucky at SKB: we have been launching several deep transformational projects recently, and so far, they are all on track! You will soon be able to see the fruit of these efforts, as clients.
For the end – what is your »fuel« or motivation during the day?
The banking industry, as I mentioned above, is at the very beginning of a deep revolution, mainly led by technology. Digitalization not only changes the way we interact with our clients: this is only the emerged part of the iceberg. It also changes, and deeply, the way we perform our tasks, internally.
My fuel during the day comes from the challenges we are facing: we have many things to do, in order to increase our clients’ satisfaction, and therefore make sure we have a role in tomorrow’s banking landscape. The starting point is excellent: SKB Banka has a strong balance sheet, top in class internal rules and governance, and a very good reputation. But this is not enough: we need to work, and to work hard, to be able to continue adding value for our clients. It is all about quality of products and services, and trust. Sailing the boat in this environment is certainly an exciting fuel when you leave your home in the morning, heading to the office !