Constantin Mareș

Constantin Mareș

Chief Digital Officer of OTP Bank

OTP Bank
OTP Bank’s Constantin Mareș details how combining a people-first culture, a courageous mindset and a three-pronged approach stimulated its organic growth

“As a bank, we help people fulfil their dreams, whether it’s creating a home or safeguarding their future.”

Although Constantin Mareș ‒ Chief Digital Officer of the fastest-growing bank in Central and Eastern Europe, OTP Bank ‒ was giving an example of how he would describe his job role to children, it’s actually a pretty beautiful and simple description that, for the average bank user, rings true.

Mareș has worked in the financial sector for 26 years, with his five (almost six) most recent years spent innovating OTP Bank, its products portfolio and services, and its digital capabilities. Prior to joining OTP, Mareș worked at a bank in Romania, before moving on to ING, and then Millennium Bank, so he isn’t exactly short of knowledge, experience or expertise when it comes to finance.

“My role is to help OTP become the leading bank in Romania, through automating processes, developing key products as well as a wider portfolio of products, and also improving the customer experience. We want to achieve organic growth with a three-pronged improvement approach: customer experience; employee experience; and efficiency.” 

During his tenure in finance, he has witnessed the evolution of banking from an industry that’s fairly static to one that is much more fluid and instant, being revitalised by a range of technology to meet the needs of an increasingly digital society. While this may up-skittle those who are averse to change, for Constantin Mareș, it’s his bread-and-butter, what keeps him interested.

“Of course, banking itself hasn’t changed too much. We are talking about loans and deposits ‒ I'm sure that no one will receive the Nobel prize for banking in the near future,” Mareș jokes with a wry smile. “But the way we do banking has changed significantly, which is due to the introduction and adoption of technologies and the digitalisation of services. 

“This kept me very interested because, throughout my experience, I was balancing business roles. I was responsible, for example, for sales in direct contact with customers, and in technology roles as chief information officer or chief digital officer. I experienced both worlds, so to speak, and that positions me very well, on the one hand, to understand what the customer needs and, on the other hand, to deliver a solution that matches what the customer needs,” he explains.

Progression through evolving mindsets

According to Mareș, one of the core, distinguishing features of OTP Bank is the fact that it is entirely human-centric, in terms of both customers and employees. This means that throughout its organisation-wide evolution ‒ in part instigated by the pandemic ‒ the main focus has been on trying to look at things from a customer or employee perspective, actively engaging both in feedback to alter OTP’s “employee branding” and “meet the demands of customers”.

The bank had already increased flexible and remote working options for employees by March 2020, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that leadership had time to recognise, understand and alleviate the various problems employees were experiencing. 

“There were big problems from anxiety issues to logistical issues. We offered psychological support when employees needed it. We offered them the possibility to take home their chairs, because, usually, you don't have a chair that is ergonomically beneficial at home,” explains Mareș. “So we were really close to people, understanding their needs, supporting them and giving them the tools to work from home seamlessly.”

Looking at the company and its processes from an employee perspective ‒ particularly during the onset of the pandemic ‒ helped Mareș to recognise that creativity was being stifled and identify ways of fixing this.

“I would say the biggest cultural exchange was the culture of fear, because you can’t have innovation if people fear making mistakes and they're afraid of the reaction of their managers.”

“Changing this culture of fear is not easy because it starts with me as a manager and how I react when I see a major mistake from my team. Do I shout, do I ask tough questions or invite people for a dialogue to understand what happened and what we can do to avoid the same mistake from repeating in the future?” asserts Mareș, laying bare the typical struggle faced by management teams when errors are made. 

“We are talking about people; about mindsets. Culture is about people and changing cultures means changing mindsets, and this is always happening over time. It doesn't happen overnight, but I'm relentless in promoting these values because I believe these values contribute in transforming OTP Bank into a sustainable organisation, an organisation that will last for many years.”

“This project is very close to my heart ‒ I will continue to evolve our way of working and bring agility into OTP Bank. And by agility, I do not mean bringing a methodology; agility is a mindset, it’s more than adopting some agile practices like daily stand ups or quarterly business reviews. No, it’s about empowering the people ‒ do not tell them what to do, but let them do their work because they do it better than you would tell them to,” Mareș concludes.

Employee empowerment and customer centricity appear to be successful strategies for OTP Bank, with organic growth of market share in 2021 (reaching a 50% increase vs. 2018) and making it a leading, fast-growing bank ‒ in fact, other financial institutes should take note.

Read the full story HERE.

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