Tuesday 23rd February 2016
Our most recent member in Europe, TEB Kosovo was established in 2008 as a joint venture between BNP Paribas and TEB A.S. Turkey. While SMEs provide the majority of jobs in Kosovo, entrepreneurship is a relatively new concept for the country, which prior to its independence in 2008 was part of the Republic of Yugoslavia. TEB Kosovo, which specializes in supporting SMEs with financial and non-financial services, like its parent TEB Turkey, is uniquely poised to play a major role in the economic development of the country. In this interview, Arton Celina, Deputy CEO, spoke with the Global Banking Alliance for Women about the bank’s SME strategy and its plans for supporting women SME owners, in particular.
GBA: From World War II through the wars of independence, Kosovo was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In the West we have often heard that gender relations were more equal in socialist countries. What was and is the reality in Kosovo?
Arton: Kosovo is perhaps the youngest country in the world, and we are moving fast toward integration into the European Union; that is our vision. In the former socialist times, women were pushed quite a bit into the public sphere. So our inheritance from that is that we have quite a high representation of women in Parliament (33 percent), and our President is a woman. Women lead quite a lot of the powerful Ministries, including the Ministry of Trade. We also see women well-represented in the media, for example.
GBA: How has Kosovo’s recent history impacted the country’s entrepreneurial mindset?
Arton: We had a war, of course, and many men left the country, so women became the primary source of income in many households. That said, just 15 percent of registered businesses are owned by women. This was the starting point for us, to increase the percentage of businesses owned by women above 15 percent.
GBA: We know that TEB Turkey has a strong range of non-financial services that it offers SMEs, including training (SME Academy, SME TV), one-on-one advisory (SME Consulting, SME Support Line), access to cheaper inputs (SME Club) as well as incubators. What kinds of non-financial services does TEB Kosovo offer SMEs?
Arton: Our mother company in Turkey has all that you just mentioned. Last year we started offering non-financial services, with the main activities being SME Academies. We held five of these in 2015, with 400 businesses participating. They were very well-received. As 99 percent of our SMEs are “micro,” their biggest barriers are understanding how to grow their businesses, so we covered topics such as growth scenarios, strategic management and action planning. Of the 400 businesses that attended, 100 signed on as new customers following the training, and their loyalty is very strong.
The rest of the services that TEB Turkey offers — SME TV, SME Club, etc. — are in our pipeline. We will adopt the offerings that suit our local conditions, while continuing to provide existing services like linking start-ups to business incubators, and offering mentoring as well as coaching on how to pitch for venture capital.
In terms of our Women Entrepreneurship Program, in 2015 we held six trainings with a total of 300 women, in partnership with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), who in turn are working with the Frankfurt School of Business on implementation. The curriculum covers business planning, strategic management, marketing and finance.
GBA: TEB Kosovo was formed relatively recently; how did you build the business model that provides such value addition to SMEs in such a short period of time?
Arton: TEB Turkey supports us in our non-financial services. We have regular meetings with them on the SME Academy, creating an investment society, supporting the ecosystem to create entrepreneurship and what kinds of initiatives the government needs to undertake to create an appropriate environment for angel investing.
GBA: Within the landscape of SMEs in Kosovo, what kinds of businesses do women tend to have, and what are their particular constraints with firm growth?
Arton: 99 percent of SMEs in Kosovo are “micro,” and within that space, women tend to have service or retail businesses. We have analyzed what their real constraints are and found that the first one is relevant know-how. They have a real lack of knowledge of entrepreneurial skills and a lack of access to information. Next, they lack managerial skills, particularly knowledge of strategic management. Third, many do not have collateral, and finally, they need to be networked.
GBA: A lot of women business owners would be categorized as “start-ups.” What do you offer women-owned start-ups in particular?
Arton: We have a specific package for start-ups: The first year we offer them all banking services for free. Second, since the main constraint we identified for them is lack of know-how, we offer them training. Third, we are flexible on our collateral requirements. We look at the financial feasibility of the business, and if the plan is accepted as feasible, we can use moveable assets as collateral for existing clients with proven track records. We have a guarantee from the EBRD that gives us some loss coverage, helping to mitigate the risk, and we have a partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), where they granted us a US$1.5 million credit guarantee facility for women-owned SMEs. We also partner with business associations that provide us with references for these prospective borrowers and help us to ensure the businesses are actually woman owned. For instance, in some cases a business might actually be owned or run by an applicant’s husband or son, who may have run into trouble on other loans and is now making the woman seek a loan from the bank.
On the finance side, we offer micro loans at the same rates as we do for corporate clients, which is quite attractive. We started the Women Entrepreneurship Program 1 ½ years ago, and now we have become the brand for women. We are proud to say that whenever financing women is mentioned, TEB Kosovo is mentioned.
GBA: You also target women who are not business owners. Can you share what segments, why you have branched beyond SMEs and what you offer?
Arton: We try to foster an entrepreneurial spirit among women and help them develop their businesses beyond ideation. These women have an existing business idea but do not yet have a business. We target them and offer them training to empower them to become entrepreneurs.
GBA: GBA banks report that to be successful in the Women’s Market it is necessary to have a strong Diversity & Inclusion agenda internally. Tell us what TEB Kosovo has done to become the employer of choice for women in Kosovo.
Arton: It goes without saying that we are an equal opportunity employer. If you look at senior management, our Head of Operations, our Head of Audit, our Head of Credit Allocation and our Head of HR are all women, and we have 48 percent women in middle management, When we recruit, we deliberately try to recruit women, and when we promote, we try to promote women. I truly believe that women have equal opportunities to succeed at TEB Kosovo.
GBA: Despite best efforts, there is often resistance in the branches to supporting women customers in particular, because of perceptions that women are more work and less profitable. What have you done and/or will you do to gain buy-in from the staff around the Women Entrepreneurship Program?
Arton: This was pointed out in our research as an internal barrier. We have asked the EBRD for internal trainings, and the Frankfurt School has already conducted five trainings for us on this topic. We also have been training staff on how to serve women-owned start-ups. Our staff members say that they like to serve women, as they are better re-payers than men and they are more honest. So far the reaction has been very positive.
GBA: How did you first hear about the GBA? Why did you decide to join?
Arton: We first learned about the GBA from our mother company, TEB Turkey, and we looked up the website. Then I was at the EBRD meeting in London, and I really appreciated your contribution on our panel. We want to be part of the Alliance and we want to learn. I would really like to be an active member, to share concerns, and participate in the online consulting and experience sharing.