Helping SMEs grow their business through digital banking – an interview with Tinkoff

Thursday 3 September 2020 08:56 CET | Editor: Vlad Macovei | Interview

Fedor Bukharov, Vice President of Tinkoff and Head of Tinkoff Business, provides valuable insight in what it means to provide the right financial services to boost innovation and growth in the SMEs sector

Could you please share details about Tinkoff Business and your corporate banking arm? What are your main services that you offer and what are the needs/challenges for SMEs?

Launched in 2015, Tinkoff Business offers a full range of financial services for SMEs, including cash management and payment services for accounts in various currencies, loans, accounting services, a website and documents builder, a payroll card program, merchant acquiring, Internet acquiring, point of sale loans, products for government procurement actors, as well as a CRM system for sales management. Tinkoff Business customers also get free payroll cards for employees and access to a personal manager, 24-hour customer support with remote assistance, and an opportunity to customise products according to their needs.

We continue to roll-out new products and services, constantly improving our customer experience. We are developing all of our products at Tinkoff with one goal – to help entrepreneurs and business owners focus on developing and growing their businesses instead of waiting in line to talk to managers at overflowing branch offices (this is one of the reasons why we are fully branchless). Tinkoff Business customers can complete a major share of all their business related tasks in their mobile app. Our products also help optimise their businesses. For example, open API helps establish business processes and cut costs on routine operations.

To our large clients we offer services that help them grow sales. To help with that, in February 2020, Tinkoff Business launched Russia’s first full-scale outsourced banking call center for SMEs. The new outsourced call center for business has sprouted out of Tinkoff’s cloud call center, the largest of its kind in Europe. Specially trained operators can now cater to SMEs’ business needs and process calls 24/7 across all of Russia and Kazakhstan. With the help of the new call center, SMEs are able to sell their products and services over the phone, conduct polls, get feedback, and call potential customers. Enterprises are able to choose how many operators they want working for them. Working with Tinkoff’s call center operators saves costs of hiring and training SMEs’ own customer service representatives. Tinkoff Business customers can manage this service on the dashboard of their accounts where they can listen to calls and get analytics on the calls made by operators.

Using our many years of technology and business expertise, Tinkoff can customise its products taking into account all the needs and demands of SMEs and large businesses.

The Tinkoff CoronaIndex showcased a change in SMEs and consumers behaviours during the pandemic. Do you expect this change to move from being a trend caused by lockdown to a standard behaviour for all the parties involved?

Predictably, we’ve seen a shift towards adoption of online services during lockdown. People, who up to this point weren’t interested in changing their shopping or banking habits were forced to try doing more things online when lockdown measures went into effect. I believe that even as lockdown measures continue to ease in Russia, many of those people will continue to use digital products and services going forward, having experienced the ease and convenience of doing so.

In effect, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst to speed up the digital revolution in Russia, including in banking and ecommerce. On the operational side, not much has changed for us, as Tinkoff has been and remains a branchless, digital provider of financial and lifestyle services. 

Tinkoff’s CoronaIndex shows that business activity quickly began returning to pre-COVID-19 levels in Russia. Consumer spending and SME revenues have improved steadily since the beginning of the second quarter. 

The first week of quarantine was the most difficult one for businesses, it became a bit of a shock for them but almost immediately many segments showed gradual growth. We saw that in May the turnover of beauty salons and service industry in general began to recover as these businesses gradually began to reopen in different Russian regions. 

There has been no catastrophe and many businesses have adapted, others had to wait things out and returned to work later, albeit not on the same scale. If the virus can be stopped and there are no new restrictions, then different business segments will be able to fully recover over time.

From your measurements taken for helping SMEs during the coronavirus pandemic – lowering fees, payment holidays, helping SMEs switch to the online environment, among others – which one(s) did you find most difficult to implement and why?

First and foremost, we implemented the types of support measures that were the easiest and fastest to introduce, so that our customers could immediately turn to us for help. We had little time to pool our resources together to create complex solutions because we all found ourselves in the grips of a global pandemic quite unexpectedly. We were, however, able to quickly estimate what types of payments we could lower for our customers. We made agreements on loans with a partner bank and ensured customers could take advantage of available government support, immediately putting this assistance into action.

We understood that our help did not have to be limited to fine-tuning our financial instruments. So, we quickly restructured our internal processes and created a separate team that helped our customers move their business online. Since we’ve always worked online ourselves, we understood what businesses should be doing in this area. So we didn’t just help them by offering advice. We got to the heart of our customers’ businesses and offered assistance in creating websites with the help of our website builder, gathered valuable discounts on delivery services and digital promotions from our partners, and held webinars with experts on relevant topics.

Regarding Tinkoff Corporate Banking Mobile App, did you observe a noticeable surge in activity, especially when you compare it to traditional banking ways?

It’s difficult for us to compare our Tinkoff Business app to traditional banking, since we operate exclusively in the digital banking space. However, we did notice that user engagement continued to increase to 270,000 monthly active users and 120,000 daily active users. How much of that is due to the lockdown is impossible to say.

After all the measures you took and implemented to help your SME clients, how did this affect customer loyalty and retention? 

I think the positive effect is clear when you look at the numbers – they speak for themselves. At the beginning of the year we had 545,000 SME customers with a total current account balance of RUB 50.9 billion. This figure has grown to 565,000 SME customers with a total current account balance of RUB 57.4 billion since then. 

What are Tinkoff’s future plans, taking into consideration the current global situation?

As a customer-centric operation, we will continue to listen to Tinkoff Business customers in order to innovate and further improve our offering for SMBs. We plan to continue developing complex technology products, which simplify the lives of our customers in the mid-sized businesses segment. We have also set a high standard for working with individual entreprenerus and will continue to uphold these standards in the future. At the moment, we are preparing to work with an increasingly large number of customers because we believe that the trend of increasingly working online and going digital will continue. Therefore, we expect to see new digital banking customers, who previously could not imagine working with a branchless bank . After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they began to understand and appreciate the convenience of digital banking. Additionally, we have a number of larger corporate customers that need more complex customised solutions, which take into account the specifics of their businesses, while leveraging our technology and experience. We plan to continue to work with all of these types of Tinkoff Business customers, aiming to provide best-in-class service.

About Fedor Bukharov 

Fedor is the Vice President of Tinkoff, responsible for developing Tinkoff Bank’s SME offering and is in charge of Tinkoff Business. He started his career in banking in 2002 and worked on developing the SME business of UniCredit Bank, Bank SOUYZ, and Credit Bank of Moscow. Fedor graduated from the Novosibirsk State Technical University and holds a degree from the Finance Academy under the Government of the Russian Federation.


About Tinkoff Business

Tinkoff was founded at the end of 2006 and is one of the world’s largest independent digital banks serving more than 11 million customers across Russia. Branchless since its inception, Tinkoff provides a wide range of financial and lifestyle services to customers via its superapp and website interface. In 2015, Tinkoff launched Tinkoff Business, aimed at serving small and mid-sized businesses. 

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Keywords: Tinkoff, Tinkoff Business, Russia, SME, small businesses, digital banking, financial services, loans, cash management, CRM, point of sale, API, coronavirus, pandemic, CoronaIndex, corporate banking mobile app
Categories: Banking & Fintech
Countries: Russian Federation
This article is part of category

Banking & Fintech