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Raiffeisen Bank in Kosova sets sights on becoming fully digital

Raiffeisen Bank Kosovo’s vision is to become a digital bank with a human touch. David Heitzinger, newly appointed Chief Operations Officer/Chief Information Officer (COO/CIO), and Shkelqim Meqa, Head of IT and Data, elaborate on what it means to become fully digital.

[This interview was originally published in the bank’s RaiMagazine newsletter in May 2024]

Digital applications for financial services are a common standard today. What are other essential components needed to develop a competitive digital offering?

Heitzinger: The most important factor is to put the customer in the focus. Digital offerings must support the customer in all financial needs in the best way. To achieve this, a lot of customer research and investment in customer and user experience is needed. Additionally, the customers need support in acquiring and utilizing these new offerings. Fully digital also means a readiness inside the organization. We must have the technologies, processes, and the right mindset in place to focus on digital banking. Digital channels to the customer, combined with internal readiness, is what means to be fully digital.

What new features can we expect to see in the future from our bank?

Meqa: Step by step, regulatory authorities provide the framework to offer all financial products in a digital way. This includes electronic signature, video identification, instant payment or SEPA payments. These will add greatly to the ease of use of digital channels. In addition, we are always on the lookout for new offerings to satisfy the customers’ needs, such as Raiconnect - a remote collaboration tool, RAIPOS - a payment acceptance app or SME On – a digital onboarding web solution.

Expanding our offerings, we are streamlining the E2E (end[1]to-end) customer journey and providing business with automatic lending approvals. Innovations like Remote Advisory and Virtual Branches are set to transform customer interactions, while tools for financial management and AI integrations like MAIA CHAT will personalize the banking experience further. Besides continuously improving our technology, we are looking very carefully into Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it can help us to improve our offerings and optimize our processes.

What can the customer expect from AI and isn’t it dangerous?

Heitzinger: It is clear that AI can only be a supportive measure for us. The human intervention and the human decision will stay the ultimate guideline for our processes. This is also clearly stated in the latest AI regulations by the European Union (EU AI Act). We are putting extra care into safety and security for privacy and data protection. But AI offers smart ways to enhance our products. In can shorten and enrich our customers’ processes and opens new opportunities. We want to use these opportunities to streamline our way of work. Our employees are already experimenting with AI on every level, and I expect that by end of the year its usage will be as common to us as every other technology.

Apart from AI, what are the technological challenges at the moment?

Meqa: The last years saw a huge push towards usage of public Cloud. For me, this move was essential for our future development. It’s not about exchanging the datacenter provider, but Cloud technologies open the door for completely new approaches. We’re embracing DevOps and GitOps approaches, where system operation becomes an integral part of end-to-end application delivery. This typically increases the flexibility, thus bringing the ability to immediately deliver necessary changes for the customer. At the same time keeping stability and performance on the highest level. A very promising aspect of Cloud is the possibility for managing costs. FinOps solutions give you full transparency of your resources and allow you to optimize resource usage and to minimize costs.

How does Raiffeisen Bank Kosovo approach cybersecurity and data protection in its digital transformation?

Meqa: At Raiffeisen Bank Kosovo, ensuring the security of our digital banking services is paramount. We employ robust security measures, such as multi-factor authentication to protect our customers’ transactions and information, particularly on critical platforms. In dealing with security incidents and breaches, we have a systematic process in place for rapid and efficient resolution, utilizing advanced systems for incident logging and management.

Heitzinger: Our approach to cybersecurity is collaborative, with expertise spread across our IT department to tackle security challenges effectively. A dedicated team also focuses on critical security tasks, such as vulnerability assessments, to maintain the highest level of protection for our systems and services. From a management perspective, we are pursuing a zero-tolerance policy. All employees must be aware of the importance and fulfill all measures to prevent, mitigate and solve Cyber Security incidents.

Data is pivotal in modern banking. How is Raiffeisen Bank Kosovo innovating in this area to improve services and efficiency?

Meqa: Raiffeisen Bank Kosovo is at the forefront of leveraging data to transform banking experiences. Our journey into the cloud over the past two years has been pivotal, with a significant 75% of our applications now cloud hosted. This not only boosts our agility but also enhances our data management capabilities. Education is key, we are upskilling our team with data literacy programs covering Power BI, SQL, and other analytics tools, enabling them to extract valuable insights from data. Training and community-building are integral to our strategy. By advancing the skills of our data professionals and fostering the Data Guild community, we are creating a collaborative environment that bridges data and business expertise.

We employ a range of advanced tools and are developing APIs to ensure seamless data flow to our reporting platforms. The transition towards real-time data is underway, promising even greater immediacy in our data-driven decisions. Moreover, we’re harnessing external data and developing digital tools for automatic approvals in banking processes, such as personal loans and
account limit increases, further streamlining our services. Our commitment to data integrity is unwavering, with automated reconciliation processes and data quality engines ensuring the reliability of our data. We’re also modernizing our legacy systems, including the Core Banking System (CBS), to keep pace with technological advancements. In essence, our strategic embrace of cloud technology, commitment to data literacy, and innovative analytical solutions are driving us towards a future where banking is not only more efficient but also more personalized and customer centric.

The digital transformation journey requires not just technological advancement but also a skilled workforce. How is Raiffeisen Bank Kosovo addressing this?

Heitzinger: True digital transformation extends beyond technology; it is fundamentally about people. At Raiffeisen Bank Kosovo, we are deeply invested in upskilling our workforce to navigate and lead in the digital landscape. Through a variety of e-learning platforms we provide our team with the resources they need to continuously develop their skills. The Go IT Academy, an initiative by Raiffeisen Bank International, plays a pivotal role in offering comprehensive training across a spectrum of IT and data domains, from beginner to expert levels. We’re also on the brink of launching the AI Pioneer Program, aimed at fast-tracking AI adoption and contributing to the RBI Group’s AI transformation efforts. In-house training facilitates a culture of
knowledge sharing and continuous learning.

Moreover, our RISE program offers real-world experience to university students, integrating them into our teams where they can contribute and learn in a practical setting. Agile methodology is the backbone of our operational framework, ensuring cohesive teamwork between our tech and business units to deliver end-to-end products efficiently. Making certain that our bank is not just ready for the digital age but is also at the forefront of defining banking’s future landscape.