BCR was established in 1990, having taken over the commercial banking operations of the National Bank of Romania. The bank stands out among Romanian banks with 77 percent of its workforce and 3 out of 5 board members being women.
BCR ranks second in Romania, with 14.4-percent market share. The bank serves more than 3 million clients through a network of 430 retail units and the largest national ATM network of 2,500 ATMs and MFMs (Multifunctional Machines) and 14,500 POS.
In this interview, Ms. Dana Dima (Demetrian), Executive Vice-President Retail & Private Banking, spoke with us about the financial inclusion of women in Romania, the bank’s strategy in digital transformation—including its cutting-edge digital banking platform, “George”—and its national financial literacy efforts.
Alliance: For our global readership, can you help us understand BCR’s market position and strategic vision in Romania and Ernst Group internationally?
Dana Dima (DD): BCR in Romania and Erste Group aim to secure prosperity for all the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region. Our mission is to help people achieve financial independence by making financial services accessible to all segments of the population. We’ll offer a wide range of products and services through our upcoming world-class digital platform, “George.”
In Romania, BCR plays a major role in economic development, proactively supporting the business community, in particular. The organizational principles and values that all our staff embody include proactively supporting the communities we belong to. BCR aims to be a model, an inspiration and a catalyst for all of its stakeholders. Beyond our high-impact social responsibility programs, our goal is for every BCR employee to become an ambassador of community involvement.
Alliance: As the most important financial group in Romania operating in a crowded banking market, how does BCR differentiate itself? Is an upcoming women-centered strategy part of this differentiation?
DD: BCR differentiates itself in part through our work to eliminate financial illiteracy—which we consider the main obstacle for prosperity—by promoting financial knowledge. We work hard to make our products understood by our customers, as we truly believe that selling products and supporting financial literacy go hand in hand. To achieve this goal, we built the “Money School,” the largest financial education program in Romania, where 63 percent of our teachers are women.
The second differentiator is our technology platform “George.” The platform was developed with IT teams, designers, psychologists and sociologists. Customers have access to a full range of products in an easy and convenient manner.
Our third differentiator is our focus on women, whether as customers or employees. For example, three of the digital labs we opened last year as part of our transformation process are led by women.
Alliance: Per the 2017 Global Findex data, just over half (53.6 percent) of women in Romania are included in the formal financial system compared to the Europe and Central Asia average of 62.5 percent. Similarly, just 19.9 percent of women access loans. What do you think are the main reasons for this gap, and how has your bank addressed this issue?
DD: The unbanked population in Romania is very high with the lowest degree of financial intermediation in the European Union. Romania also has the lowest level of financial education in the EU and worldwide, where it is ranked 123rd out of 143 countries. This is why in 2016 BCR launched our comprehensive financial education program, “Money School,” targeting children and youth from kindergarten to university, as well as adults and companies, and engaging more than 1,000 of our colleagues as teachers. The program is the biggest in Romania, with almost 400,000 people trained over the last three years, and I am very proud of that.
Alliance: Why did the bank decide to develop a strategy for the female economy, and what stage are you at in its development?
DD: We believe there is huge potential in Romania for the female economy. We are a leading country in the EU in terms of women’s participation in traditionally male-dominated fields such as engineering, manufacturing and computing, as many of us graduated in physics math and other sciences. Despite that, Romania’s entrepreneurial activity is still low, and women are less likely to start or lead a business. If more women become entrepreneurs and business leaders, Romania will develop into a more prosperous and innovative country, able to offer better opportunities to all its people.
We have several programs. The most important one is “BCR Scoala de Business,” where we train businesswomen. A second program is the INNOVX platform dedicated to mentoring start-ups. Thirty percent of the workshops provided through that platform are run by women. We are building a strong roster of female mentors from within our own ranks to support entrepreneurs going through this accelerator.
Alliance: How do you intend to segment the women you intend to support?
DD: We target all women, as they play such a key role in supporting their families’ financial education and financial security. We offer a range of products, from children’s savings plans to the entire palette of financial and insurance services, to enable them to create wealth and de-risk their lives. And we target female business owners and employees, as mentioned, through our “BCR Scoala de Business” financial education program. We have noted that that even though women are paid 26-percent less than men on average, they manage to save 7 percent more, so they show financial behavior that makes them good customers.
Alliance: Can you tell us about the financial and non-financial solutions you plan to offer? How will women be able to access them?
DD: Our main strategic focal point is getting more women to use digital channels. As a result of our efforts, we are now seeing women making 8-percent more transactions than men via online banking.
Alliance: The “Global Gender Gap Report 2020” highlights the low participation of women in entrepreneurship, with only 12.5 percent of firms having female majority ownership. What are the main barriers women face in Romania to venture into business? And how do you define a woman-led business and woman-owned business in BCR?
DD: The paradox is that while Romania actually scores relatively high on indicators related to gender equality, such us women’s chances of starting a job, getting paid, running a business and managing assets, there remain significant cultural barriers to women starting businesses.
Women are disproportionally responsible for childcare and other family obligations, so they have less time to focus on becoming entrepreneurs and self-report lower skills and capability to start a business.
Alliance: The “Global Gender Gap Report 2020” also shows low participation of women in the labor force in Romania, especially at the managerial level, with only 20 percent of firms with female top managers. Can you tell us about your overall internal diversity and inclusion strategy? What’s your vision on that front going forward? Do you have initiatives to get more women into leadership positions?
DD: Approximately 77 percent of our employees and 3 out of 5 members of our management board are women. That says it all. So for us, it comes naturally, and we want to spread this mindset to the Romanian economy, where women’s participation level is still low and people still believe that businesses must be run by men by default.
Alliance: What kind of adaptations have you had to implement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? Was there a disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women in Romania? What have been the key learnings?
DD: Fortunately for us, we did not have to make major adjustments to adapt to the new context. We had already implemented our digital platform, “George,” so we were able to serve our clients remotely during the lockdown both online and by phone. We also assist those who are not familiar with this new technology.
Everyone was affected, of course, but despite the challenges during the pandemic weeks, at BCR, we experienced a unique solidarity among our employees, from front office advisors to the people in the field and to those teleworking. For us, the “social distance” made us, more than ever, work even closer—like a real team. All of my colleagues mobilized 24/7 to show immediate support to our customers. I think what we have gained the most from this pandemic is care and solidarity.
Alliance: How did you first hear about the Financial Alliance for Women, and why did you decide to join?
DD: The suggestion for BCR to join the Financial Alliance for Women came from MasterCard Romania, our main partner, with whom we developed and implemented projects with great impact on our society. We decided to join the Financial Alliance for Women due to our desire to build comprehensive programs that deliver to our stakeholders (especially women) the tools they need to succeed, from access to information and financial education to innovative products and services.
BCR Bank at a glance (FY 2019)
Number of clients: 3 million
Percentage of female clients: 49,82%
Number of employees: 7,144
Percentage of female employees: 77%
Value of assets (in USD): $16,965 million
Loan portfolio (in USD): $9,214 million
Loan portfolio to women (in USD): $2,270 million
Deposits (in USD): $13,083 million
Deposit held by women (in USD): $2,152 million
NPL ratio: 4.1%
Full-service branches: 430