Managers under the spotlight - Sergiu Manea, BCR

Sergiu Manea is the Chief Executive Officer of Banca Comerciala Romana (BCR), Romania’s most important financial institution. BCR provides market-leading financial services for consumers, small businesses and corporates, as well as asset management and private pension management services.

Sergiu took over the CEO position since October 1, 2015, serves as its Chairman of Management Board and has been its Member of Management Board since March 1, 2012. Under his leadership, BCR has entered into a new stage of transformation, reaching a significant milestone by launching Romania's first intelligent banking platform, George. During Sergiu's tenure, BCR has positioned itself as a promoter of creating prosperity through education and technology, by setting up the largest financial education program in Romania, the Money School, the entrepreneurial education platform BCR Business School and InnovX-BCR, the business accelerator for tech start-ups.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from the Academy of Economic Studies and holds a Master of Science in Finance from the ASE Doctoral School of Finance (DOFIN) in Bucharest.

As part of the CCE-R initiative meant to bring member managers under the spotlight, we had the opportunity to address Sergiu few questions from both human and professional perspectives. Enjoy the interview down below!

1. What does a working day look like for you?

Focus is the most important thing throughout the day and it’s even more important when there aren’t two days alike. I try to have a clear schedule, so that I can have an overview of what is important and which initiatives need feedback from my side. This helps me maintain an agile way of working.

My work experience showed me how important it is to be available, to adapt to different work contexts and to have time slots available for different issues that can emerge. And I’ve learned how important it is to quickly overcome and fit sudden business challenges, as the ones we face today – from cybersecurity threats to economical disinformation. Therefore, I always prioritize the effective communication with my team, and I’m trying to be always available for them. My belief is that a CEO’s primary task is to be there for the team, and to create a sense of connection, meaning, ownership, and long-term value.

Particularly in our industry, I think it is important to always be aware that we can make a significant change not only as individuals, but also through our activities. At BCR, for example, we are set to build financial health and financial confidence. It is our pledge and our guiding path, and it is something that goes far beyond our job requirements. Building financial trust for our customers is inspiring us to step out of our standard job descriptions to excel and innovate, while all our everyday efforts are heading towards acting responsibly, in an open and reliable manner. We are keen to lead our clients through important decisions, enabling choices that allow them to enjoy life, pursue opportunities and grow businesses. And we do it persistently.

2. How is Sergiu Manea outside the office?

I’m the same person in the office and outside of it, or at least I like to think so. I strongly believe in the power of learning new things every day, and I have always had a strong interest in history. In addition to this, I enjoy watching documentaries, as I think they hold great meaning and lessons. I feel it is our responsibility to try to have a better understanding of the world we live in and reading history books and watching documentaries give me the opportunity to discover different cultures from various parts of the world. At the same time, they feed my interest in behavioral sciences and human decision-making processes, widening my perspective on our evolutionary processes, and the historical legacy of strategic thinking.

Beside this, I’m a social learner, as one of my biggest sources of inspiration comes from the people I meet, from the diversity of their opinions and experiences. There is a saying I believe in: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all by yourself”. People are one of the best ways to learn about life, and each one of us has experiences that the other one hasn’t had.  

3. Tell us about one important project you’re working on this year.

We're halfway through the year, but we know for sure it was a year that started out with a challenge, shifting our geopolitical perspectives. So, this year we focus our projects on increasing access to financial education, digital education, and entrepreneurship education for all Romanians.

With a war at the border, each one of us has been in the position to rethink personal and country financial outlooks. At the same time, the macroeconomic outlook for 2022 poses additional challenges especially for low-income households: a slowdown in economic growth, with a higher inflation rate and a gradual, low depreciation of the Romanian leu. An asymmetric impact could lead to short-term problems for those indebted.

That is why our efforts are focused on raising people’s interest in finance and economy, promoting, and strengthening the responsible management of personal finances. An example is the Ask BCR/Întreabă BCR campaign, which is our answer to some of the most common financial dilemmas raised in the last 6 months.

What we did with Ask BCR is rooted in our aim to be a lifetime companion for our customers, using the power of finance to help people live better lives in good times, as well as in hardship. It’s a meaningful and transparent conversation about money, intended to increase financial knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Thus, for one week, a team of BCR financial experts, myself included, and online key opinion leaders have become influencers for financial truths, answering to their communities’ questions about finances and how the economy will evolve in the coming period. Cash vs card money, savings vs investments, euro vs lei, ROBOR vs IRCC, all these concerns have been addressed on our personal social media channels.

In my view, Ask BCR is something we really need, in a time when most of us have noticed the effects of fake news and scaremongering.

And I have to add another project dear to my heart: #StandwithUkraine, our humanitarian response plan for Ukraine and BCR’s caravan providing refugees with essential services and assistance at Isaccea border crossing. I'm grateful for the quick reaction and the way my colleagues responded to this situation. They were simply superhumans, being the best proof that the future of banking is human. In all these tumultuous times, they’ve created emotional and humanitarian connections, even though the operational measures taken at that moment meant an even heavier workload. Perhaps the best example of superhuman effort was the development of a recruitment platform dedicated to Ukrainian refugees in Romania, a joint project Jobful and InnovX-BCR. The “Jobs for Ukraine” platform, developed with the support of Druid AI, Microsoft and EY Romania, aims to support the citizens of Ukraine who will remain in Romania in the medium and long term, and who are seeking for jobs.

4. What was one big innovation your industry has benefited from over the last few years?

The biggest innovations in banking industry were driven by people needs and expectations. The main innovation was digitalization at record pace. The pandemic context and its lockdowns have accelerated the digital transformation, and changed our habits, starting from the way we work, how we shop, learn, communicate, or consume entertainment programs. And this is also reflected in the way we access banking products or how we interact with our bank.

Today’s banking customers are looking for a reliable bank, that can provide secure, resilient, and always available services. They are appreciating a responsive partner, that offers flexible financial solutions and accessible products, through quick adaptability and concrete actions. And the banking sector digital transformation allows us to offer a better customer experience. We can find what people want, while we can develop banking services and products that previously took much longer to implement. The innovative technologies help us strengthen the customer engagement, enabling a long-term relationship based on the smart financial choices and personalized advice.

At BCR, we’ve created a vision for digital transformation over the past years, as we’ve understood and anticipated the industry revolution. I take pride in how we’ve elevated the customer experience as an omnichannel bank, allowing our customers to choose between digital and traditional sales and communication channels. We’ve started the accelerated digitalization journey in 2018 and we have a best practice case in launching George, our digital banking platform. In this moment, we have 2 million users of internet banking and mobile banking, of whom almost 1.5 million active users of George, up by 33% versus 2020. Last year, we’ve opened George for business, supporting entrepreneurs in managing their finances 100% online. We have already reached 100,000 companies enrolled in George for business, a platform which offers digital onboarding, digital overdraft, and unique authentication for both business and personal operations allowing users to easily switch back and forth between the two interfaces.

With reference to the banking industry, we are no longer talking about digitalization as a competitive advantage, as it is integrating in business-as-usual. Moreover, it is a moment for all industries to transform their supply chains, not only to fix them, but to meet future requirements. It’s the opportunity to deeply analyse the sustainability of some existing business operations. 

5. What’s one great challenge the industry you’re operating in is currently facing?

In the current context, we can see recurring disruption requiring increased resiliency. We certainly look cautiously at the geopolitical situation, but we have to say that the banking system has a new confidence ground today. And this solid foundation of trust is built on the experiences of the last two years, when banks have proven to be a reliable partner, offering solutions in managing the pandemic crisis, for both retail and corporate clients. The pandemic has caused constant disruption to society, and now, the war in Ukraine and the global rise in inflation are causing some other shocks in financial markets. What's important is that banks have shown us that they can adapt, leading the digital transformation, setting an agile working environment, with a modern workforce. And now is the time to provide specific competences in areas such as cybersecurity, risk modelling, climate science and green finance.

On the other hand, financial institutions are in the business of customer trust, and they must keep an open communication on all their channels, to offer smart advice in the times of growth, but especially in uncertain times. We want to offer a human relationship even in digital times, and it is part of our role to provide accurate, real-time information and to strengthen the education of our customers. And because we're talking about adaptability, then it's important to open the conversation about the bank’s repositioning and the changing role of a banker. At BCR, we aim to become a financial health company. We follow our purpose to bring prosperity to everyone and financial health is our way to provide a financial mindset and toolset for our customers.

6. What’s your current hobby?

It's not just a current hobby, it's a lifelong passion: music. I am a true rock music fan, and I appreciate the driving force music has in my life. It’s a delight and a solution at the same time. Whenever I have some pressure-packed moments, I listen to loud rock music. It helps me relax and improve focus, giving me peace of mind and clarity.  

7. What’s your favourite book?

I have a passion on history and the books that offer a broad history overview. At the same time, I appreciate all the readings related to behavioral development and evolution. I recommend any history book, as I’m aware of the fact that we need to know our history in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The experiences of our predecessors give us insights into our evolving behavior in matters of life, peace and war, diplomacy, economic and political systems, and especially on the importance of protecting our rights and freedoms. There is a cyclical nature of the history, and it is up to us to overcome it, to progress and make the world a better place.

8. What piece of advice would you give to a newly appointed CEO/young entrepreneur?

Don’t be afraid of failure. The fear of failure slows your growth, your vision for the future, and the trust you have in people. Try to embrace the lessons you can learn from failure. And, in my view, one of the most important lessons is rooted in the fact that failure is a great source of motivation, which provides immediate value, bringing up business insights on which you can build a success story.