- RCB is in Cyprus for 25 years and it is considered as one of the systemic banks of the island. How do you value this success?
To be honest, we are very proud for developing and expanding a small international bank into one of the three significant Cypriot banks over these last 15 years, since I undertook the role of CEO. RCB Bank did not simply grow in size but was converted into a fully-fledged Cypriot banking institution that currently employs more than 400 members of staff and plays a vital role in supporting the real economy of the country. Today, we finance clients from the most important pillars of the economy such as tourism, energy, education, the pharmaceutical industry and retailing just to name a few. Therefore, this is not simply a success for the management and the people of RCB Bank but one we share with our valued clients and the market alike. If there’s something we are particularly proud of is that throughout these years, we have remained loyal to our core values of trust, responsibility and excellence. A recent example of responsibility was our decision to purchase and donate 12 medical ventilators to the health authorities of Cyprus at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic because our success gains true value when it is shared with the people of our country. That is also the rationale behind our decision to celebrate our 25th anniversary by donating the symbolic amount of 25,000 Euros to each of the following four charities: The Independent Social Support Body, the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics, FONI: The Council of National Policy on preventing the abuse of children and the Sophia Foundation for children.
- You have been the CEO of RCB for the last 15 years. This includes the 2008 financial crisis and the 2013 haircut. What are some lessons you have gained from these crises?
The best way to react when suffering a blow is to remain standing and enriched from the experience to move forward and never lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. And there was plenty of light in both those cases because we believed and we continue to believe in the excellent prospects of Cyprus as a business center and of our economy alike. However, with firm belief in Cyprus and its people, we did not take a defensive stance but on the contrary we opted to expand and focus on local business. We proceeded with opening branches in all the major cities of Cyprus and also expanded our human capital with professionals from the market that could lead this expansion. This move did not only prove successful but constitutes an example that in every crisis there are opportunities that must be grabbed and there must be willpower to move forward and come out of them stronger. Yes, there were many lessons to be learned and mistakes that should not be repeated as far as the banking sector is concerned and of course the economy overall. What matters however is that we in Cyprus have proven for yet another time that we can weather storms and sail into new successes.
- How is the banking system affected by the corona pandemic in Cyprus?
Let’s be realists, the effects on the economy are extremely serious and we have yet to see their full effect because government subsidies have been in place to sustain the situation albeit for a limited time. Tourism is one of the most important pillars of the economy. Unfortunately, a full tourism season has been lost. At the same time, several businesses from various other sectors are facing difficulties, painting a not so nice picture overall. The banking sector will of course be negatively affected when its clients are facing challenges and that is precisely why the Central Bank of Cyprus and the ECB have stepped in to offer tools that will help the sector but also the economies of the Eurozone, a goal that was of course shared with the facilities made available on an EU level as well. In our case, we extended our support to our clients since the beginning of the pandemic and will continue to do so because we know them well and are confident that they will overcome the difficulties caused by the pandemic.
- What challenges is the banking system faced with now and how did COVID-19 alter them?
The banking system is right now in a transitional stage with consolidations taking place and supervision becoming increasingly stricter. With high NPL ratios on the agenda for the majority of banks, the COVID-19 pandemic poses new and unprecedented challenges for the banking sector in that many clients are faced with unique problems such as those from the tourism industry with consequences that will be felt on all levels of society and of course the economy. We Cypriots are accustomed to crises, however, this one is a global one and requires calm and collective action in weathering it on a European as well as a national level. The system, from its supervisors in Nicosia and Frankfurt to all the banks on the island is called to provide support to the real economy. That is something we have been doing since the beginning as the healthy cells of the economy should be aided in surviving the crisis but also to recover and move forward.
- Does your strategy at RCB change with the new realities today?
A successful strategy is one that is synchronized with the new trends of the market, provides the solid foundations to deal with difficulties and is also flexible to adjust to new needs and realities. If something pleases us is that the new realities, although unprecedented, found RCB Bank ready. We have the financial strength, the digital tools required and the close cooperation with healthy clients to deal with the initial shocks and the subsequent increasing needs the pandemic brought upon us. At the same time our strategy to support our clients and the country’s economy from the very beginning is something that is being recognized. Let’s not forget that life must be at the epicenter of all our efforts and for us that is firmly embedded in our culture, our business and our social corporate responsibility that supports hundreds of causes every year. Moving forward, our strategy revolves around further expanding our loan portfolio of business clients, to offering new technological and pioneering digital products and services.
- For years RCB has low NPLs, compared to the other banks in Cyprus. What is your secret for this success?
There is no secret other than prudency and a professional assessment of each lending case, away from any interventions or interpersonal relations that a small society like Cyprus often suffers from. We have the best corporate banking team that goes through lengths to know they business of each client, their abilities and a credit committee that has the reputation of being tough. In short, we are professionals and this professionalism and in depth analysis is what led us to becoming the safest bank with strong foundations and without facing the NPL problems the sector is dealing with right now. After all, the very future of Cyprus lies with those companies that have the solid foundations and the prospects to grow and we remain committed in being their partners. Together, we have been helping Cyprus grow for 25 years and intend to continue doing so in the many years ahead.
- Moody’s and S&P have confirmed RCB’s rating and stable financial position. What does that mean for you and what are your future goals in terms of the Bank’s position in Cyprus?
What rating agencies and their reports do is nothing more than reflect the state of each bank and in this regard, we pride ourselves in gaining and maintaining the highest rating in the country. It is an achievement that did not come easy and I have already explained above how we managed to have this healthy and strong profile as a bank. Our future goals are related to continuing to support our existing and also new clients that have solid foundations and the prospects to grow. After all, that is what we banks are there to do on a corporate level: to help our clients grow their business. When we took the decision to focus our strategy on local business we did so knowing the excellent prospects of the market and the companies and clients that are in a position to expand their businesses and boost the economy overall. We will therefore continue to remain focused on providing products and solutions on many levels and on remaining not just in touch with European and international trends but totally synchronized with what is on offer.
- From your perspective, following the latest news about the Cyprus Investment Program do you think that investors will lose their interest in the island? Will future investors come under a new program and what should this program be?
- It’s worth mentioning that Cyprus attracted and continues to attract investors who are buying property on the island and who are also investing into the construction of hotels, restaurants and modern infrastructure that Cyprus needs. Investors from around the world were investing in Cyprus even before the Cyprus investment programs were established and will continue to invest after the cancellation of the latest one. Let’s not forget that what investors are primarily seeking are opportunities that will prove fruitful and will lead to a return on their investment. Whether or not the interest of investors will decrease largely depends on what Cyprus has to offer. Undoubtedly, the real estate sector will suffer a blow for some time since the demand will naturally fall since previously it was linked with an application for naturalization. However, the investment program was designed to attract substantial financial resources to Cyprus that were spent on the construction of real estate and also on enriching and upgrading the variety of services Cyprus had to offer because of the rise in demand by those who acquired properties on the island. We do have to note however, that the Cyprus Investment Program in the way it was designed and its latest form was in essence a response to 2013 crisis and to a large extent it successfully fulfilled its role. In this regard, it provided the opportunity to attract investments and thus lead to a positive change in the quality of life in Cyprus. Now, after its closure, we are faced with the need to find new instruments which will encourage and stimulate the inflow of new investments not only on real estate but also into innovation, technology, energy and others sectors that will take Cyprus forward and enhance the real economy with substantial benefits for the society overall.
- What does an investor investing in Cyprus seek from a bank and in what ways does RCB Bank excel in that?
Investors seek reliable partners that can offer professionalism, solutions and can therefore gain their trust. Our core values once again reflect these characteristics not only academically but tangibly on the ground. We also offer an array of products and services that enable clients to cater to their needs from the comfort of their office or residence and our team of multilingual professionals is there to ensure that clients receive the best possible service on a personal level and in a tailored-made manner. Yes, we might be known to scrutinize every single detail before we open an account but we are proud to say that all our customers are ambassadors of the impeccable service and the immediate catering to their needs that they receive once they start cooperating with us. After all, we are not a retail bank in the sense of catering to the banking needs of the masses but pride ourselves in designing tailor made products and services that are extremely valuable to our clients, investors included of course.
- Do you believe that the banking system in Cyprus is competitive enough? Is there anything you want to see happen in terms of changes in the banking sector?
We are called to operate within a demanding environment and the Cyprus banking sector is still at a stage of consolidation after the 2013 crisis and the subsequent developments with the Cooperatives. The COVID-19 pandemic has now been added along with the domino effect it has and will have on the economy and its components. Within this context, we are faced with an increasingly complex regulatory system that does not differentiate between small banking institutions like us and the big financial institutions in Europe. What we would like to see, and I know that our Central Bank has successfully fought battles for Cyprus on this, is for Frankfurt to recognize the difference in size and the particulars that small institutions have versus those of leading players in Europe. Such a move would indeed increase our competitiveness. As far as the local scene is concerned, there is still be room for further consolidation, fewer and therefore stronger banks that will be in better position to cater to the needs of the market.
- The pandemic paved the way to a more digital banking system. What are RCB’s “weapons” in this new arena?
As I already said, we are both glad and proud for having being prepared in advanced for the digital banking era that was further accelerated by the pandemic. The ‘RCB Mobile Banking’, “RCB Online Banking’, ‘RCB Digital Wallet’ and the Apple Pay platforms were already in full use by our clients and that is something that helped tremendously when the pandemic highlighted the need for remote banking services. The virus did not stall our plans for further technological advancement, on the contrary it accelerated them and we proceeded with new innovative for Cyprus products such as the Cash @POS one whereby clients can get cash at the till of a shop they are at rather than having to visit an ATM, just to name one example. We were prepared precisely because we were in tune with today’s trends and we will continue to be well ‘armed” because we are constantly evolving and moving forward to the era that will soon be dominant: the digital one.
- After 25 years of RCB Bank in Cyprus and 15 years of you at its helm, what are you looking for in the future and what should customers expect from RCB Bank in the years to come?
A quarter of a century ago, a small international bank started its operations in Cyprus. 15 years ago, my team and I took charge and decided that RCB Bank should become a major bank in Cyprus and through a collective effort, that goal has been achieved. Today, we look to the future with confidence. Our goal is to further increase RCB Bank’s market share in the local business of Cyprus, remain a leader as far as technology and innovation are concerned and with the needs of our clients always in mind while remaining loyal in protecting and supporting life! Life, in all its aspects and forms, be it from a business or a human perspective. Therefore, with significant history as a solid foundation, we sail into the future aiming for further success not only for us but also for Cyprus and its people.