Bucharest-headquartered CEC Bank recently became the first bank in Romania to allow small businesses to create a new bank account entirely online, thanks to low-code development.
CEC was established in 1864 and became one of Romania's dominant players with more than 1,000 branches. However, in recent years the bank has seen its market eroded by more nimble competitors. In 2019, the government provided a capital injection to fund a new business plan centred on growth, results, and modernization.
Technology was at the heart of the bank's investment plans, says Cristina Totu, a CEC Bank Director and head of the firm's SME division:
We were lagging behind our competitors in the investment and adoption of information/digital technology. The bank relied mostly on outdated and legacy software, and this raised challenges in our ability to respond quickly and efficiently to market needs and changes.
Software applications with minimal code intervention
To meet the challenges of the new market, CEC needed to pivot to digital, by moving away from operating as a pure bricks and mortar business to an omnichannel approach, where products and services were easily available through physical channels, and online. CEC management identified that what was needed was a way to rapidly respond to existing issues, and faster ways to launch new digital products.
Low code offered a powerful solution to both challenges, Totu said. CEC realized that low code technology would help the bank to develop new software applications with minimal code intervention, as well as providing connectivity between new applications and legacy databases and existing software.
Since adopting a low-code development approach, turnaround has been significant. CEC is now one of the fastest growing banks on the Romanian market, and is also a local pioneer in digital banking. Totu said:
We're committed to helping individuals, families, and businesses thrive, and we see technology as a vital tool in serving our customers more effectively. At the end of the day our business is a people business, but we take pride in enabling human connections through digital means. And low-code meant we could make necessary changes quickly and with lower costs compared to replacing entire systems, plus accelerate time to market.
A new approach
CEC has created several new electronic banking systems using low code. The most recent is a fully digital, paperless onboarding app for SME customers. Rather than filling in paperwork and visiting a branch, small businesses can apply for a bank account online, by scanning required documentation and confirming their ID documents via video. Final paperwork can be sent and signed electronically, making the whole process faster and more efficient.
As a result, CEC is now the only Romanian financial services firm that supports the electronic creation of online accounts for businesses with complex shareholding structures, or for SMEs with non-Romanian resident shareholders (e.g., EU resident shareholders), whether private individuals or legal business entities.
The organization used the Aurachain low code-platform to develop a number of business applications, with support from a system integration consortium that included KPMG. For example, the bank created a monitoring system for its ATM and POS fleet, allowing engineers to see a real-time overview of assets on a map. In addition, the bank has built a ticketing system for the CEC IT department, which allows staff to respond to issues more quickly, reducing outage time, and boosting overall system availability. A third project is now underway, focusing on digitizing SME online trade finance solutions.
‘Three days to three hours'
By automating complex workflows and offering digital services to SME customers, the time taken to onboard new business customers has reduced from three days to three hours. Totu said:
Tracking of all requests and responses means nothing gets missed or stalled. We can also quickly modify interfaces and workflows if business processes change, and we can reconfigure the system in days in line with regulatory changes. We definitely anticipate this will contribute to more customers transacting with CEC online, in line with our digital transformation strategy.
The bank continues to build a digital strategy, with digital transformation being seen as the best on-ramp to delivering omni-channel services and giving customers a unified online/offline experience.
CEC also believes its future lies in delivering a blend of online service to ‘digital first' customers who value fast, remote access, and to physical customers who need the support and advice of branch-based banking. Digital technology also played a vital role during the Covid-19 pandemic, when it became clear that the adoption of online buying and working was the right choice, she said:
Of course, implementing all these projects in pandemic conditions raised additional challenges, but seeing how our online store now competes with our top performing branches in terms of retail volumes makes all that hard work feel worthwhile.
A high standard for Romanian banking
CEC's experience of low-code and digital transformation has allowed Totu and her team to gain valuable experience. The team has learned that innovation isn't always an easy process, but it can stimulate creativity and helps people to learn by collaborating with new teams in different ways:
We also learned a lot from the experience in terms of professionalism and collaboration between the technical and business teams involved, which is essential in designing and implementing innovative digital banking processes.
I am also confident that our new SME online onboarding process will be a flagship banking service--not only for CEC Bank, but for the entire Romanian banking industry.