Sber was named the strongest banking brand in the world in this year's Brand Finance Global 500 report. Vladislav Kreinin, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications Director at Sber explained how the ongoing pandemic had changed the way customers interact with the bank and shared Sber's future plans, which include further investments in AI and services personalisation.
What role does technology play in the relationship between your brand and your customers? How has the onset of the COVID pandemic accelerated the use of technology for your brand?
The pandemic has deepened and spurred the digital transformation of all the companies inside the Sber ecosystem, which led stakeholders to join hands united by the central company, Sberbank, and, as a result, brought a large-scale rebranding in this challenging time.
Despite the pandemic, the year 2020 was a breakthrough for Sber as it developed proprietary technology showing the importance and effectiveness of investment in cloud infrastructure and platform solutions combining diversified processes.
SberCloud, our cloud business, was growing eight times faster than the Russian cloud market and its revenue surged by 22 times. Sber completed its Platform V, a proprietary technology platform that enabled us to market new offerings 7 times faster.
We also created a solution that unlocked and distributed work simultaneously for data scientists, called ML Space, which is powered by Sber’s supercomputer, the Christofari. Despite all the difficulties with border closures and the transition to home offices, the SberDevices team was able to develop and market Sber’s first proprietary devices, the SberBox and SberPortal.
In 2020, people met Salute, the world’s first family of virtual assistants. In less than 2 months since its launch, Salute saw its MAU reach 1 million people. Artificial Intelligence is yet another promising line of work for Sber as a technology company.
Our plans go beyond its simple use – we’re set to introduce it into all processes on the strategic planning horizon of the next 3 years. The coronavirus pandemic has clearly demonstrated that AI use pays off generously. We have already learned how to estimate the investment and its financial return. Every 15 rubles, we invest and generate a profit of about 100 rubles.
What is the biggest threat to your brand as a result of the onset of COVID-19?
The banking sector was affected by COVID-19 primarily via the lending channel. Many issued loans had to be restructured, as companies and people who borrowed money experienced financial losses and could not make due payments on time.
Demand for new loans could fall as well, but luckily, new lending even grew in Russia in 2020 due to lower interest rates and government support measures. In 2020, largely thanks to its digital transformation and flexible business practices, Sber managed to perform well despite the economic crisis. However, risks remain for 2021, as the world economy is still far from full recovery, and the pandemic is far from being over.
How would you contrast the banking industries role in the Global Financial Crisis vs the role it is currently playing during the COVID pandemic?
The banking sector was at the core of the Global Financial Crisis, as the problem in 2008 originally came from the fact that before the crisis, banks had a great deal of assets that lost value and became toxic. Many major banks collapsed, and deleveraging became the primary objective of those who survived for the following several years.
Correspondingly, one of the primary policy goals was to support the banking sector to secure continuation of credit flow to the private sector. During the COVID-19 pandemic, banks are not the source of the problem, and therefore government measures are much more focused on helping people and companies who incurred losses. However, the similarity is that banks continue to play a major role as credit providers, and therefore governments heavily rely on the banking system in their anti-crisis policies.