A New Digital, International Future

INTERVIEW with Michael Collis, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of BNF Bank

Since its inception in 2007, BNF Bank has grown to become a key player in Malta’s financial services sector. Digital transformation and internationalisation are today among the bank’s priorities. FinanceMalta caught up with the Bank’s Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Michael Collis to find out more about BNF’s past, present and future.

 

Michael Collis, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of BNF Bank

Picture: Michael Collis, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of BNF Bank

BNF started operating in Malta in 2008. What can you tell us about the bank’s history and the first years in Malta?

Operations in Malta started in 2008, and from the outset the bank stood out and distinguished itself through its highly recognisable brand, its strong personal relationships with customers, its business agility and its innovative products. All these factors contributed to the bank quickly carving out its own niche in the local financial services landscape as it penetrated the market with a number of branches forming its retail network covering Malta and Gozo together with a business centre, offering personal and business clients a suite of products and tailor-made, personalised solutions.

What has been the biggest change the Bank has undergone?

In October 2017, the bank was acquired by new shareholders. It also unveiled a new name – BNF Bank – as well as a new brand identity. This reflected the new shareholders’ vision to take the bank towards a new future. It’s essence, however, was to remain the same – with customers remaining at the heart of BNF’s client-centric operations. The new shareholders’ ambitions included the blueprint for the bank’s internationalisation, starting in earnest with the opening of our branch in London that is attracting new business streams. We have also set out a plan to put in place the necessary infrastructure for the bank to accelerate growth and gain market share.

What do you see as BNF’s biggest accomplishments throughout the past 15 years?

We can look at accomplishments by measuring them against challenges. In just a couple of years from its foundation, the bank managed to grow a significant loyal customer base which considering the highly competitive local banking market is no mean feat. Indeed, we have customers that have been with us since inception. This is thanks to our straightforward and relevant products for one’s phases during the life journey, our customer-centric approach and the personal service we’re renowned for.

As the years passed, we continued to strengthen our regulatory and compliance functions. We invested significant funds in technology and training to be able to deliver the expected level of enhanced investigation, monitoring and reporting set by local and EU legislation and regulation. The bank built a strong compliance function that ensures sound corporate governance, robust risk mitigation when onboarding new clients and amplified conduct and transaction monitoring, that rightly so contributes to the security framework expected now in Malta and the EU.

Of course, we cannot mention challenges without making reference to the pandemic. I believe we quickly turned this very testing period into opportunities. We embarked on remote and hybrid working. This adaptation and flexibility protected our team and their families, our customers and our operations. We understood the particular needs of both personal and commercial clients at this very trying time and came up with facilities that supported their endeavours and ensured their longevity. We also stepped up our digital channels to offer seamless 24/7 remote services for ultimate customer convenience.

BNF Bank

Indeed, our next question is that banks worldwide are being challenged by digital-only banks. How is BNF responding to the threat of disruption?

We recognise there is a generational shift in the way clients bank and do business, and we want to be at the forefront of this. No industry can ignore the ongoing radical changes that fast technological advancement is having on people’s daily lives.

Acknowledging that customer experience needs to be re-thought often and regularly, BNF Bank has long launched its strategy for digital transformation, intended to raise the bar in digital services. The process was initiated with enhancements to the core banking system with architecture that caters for the current business landscape. BNF’s online banking platform has also been upgraded to maximise responsiveness, deliver the best products and services and provide clear actions in easy steps. These upgrades also incorporate a new banking app specifically tailored for handheld devices; mobiles and tablets. We also deployed contactless debit and credit cards and an AI-powered chatbot ‘BECS’ to ensure maximum engagement with customers.

With an outlook towards digitisation, we have selected Temenos Transact and Infinity to spearhead the next phase of technological investment of the bank for our Core Banking Transformation, which will see us implement innovative processes and services to the benefit of our customers.

How would you describe the Bank’s current performance?

The bank has announced a robust performance for 2021, registering the strongest annual financial results so far. Our net operational income has increased due to growth in loans and advances to customers, while we managed to keep operating expenses in control. The bank’s total assets also grew by over 11% over the previous year, hitting the €1billion mark. BNF’s liquidity position and capital adequacy remain strong, and we continue to perform cautious provisioning and capital planning, while operating diversified sources of funding.

ESG and sustainable finance are among the most talked about topics at the moment. What can you tell us about BNF’s ESG strategy?

BNF’s values are built on solid corporate social foundations. Throughout the year we take on social responsibility initiatives that ensure the bank puts to good use its footprint and clout in the local community, for the benefit of social lacunae requiring special attention. The Bank directs a proportion of its profits to important projects that make a difference in people’s lives, while also encouraging staff to take part and become activists. Our projects span diverse areas such as environment, philanthropy, education, sports, heritage and culture. Our dedication towards reducing the environmental impact of our operations has led us to make considerable progress in expanding our environmental agenda. Our commitment includes a continuous assessment of our environmental footprint and our role in a rapidly changing society, particularly in enabling and financing environmentally-friendly investment by our clients. Our commitment is unwavering in this respect, and we will continue to pursue this in the years to come.

Looking to the future, what are BNF’s plans and priorities for the coming years?

BNF’s Vision 2023 lays out strategic pillars for taking the bank forward. We continue to work relentlessly towards our long-term and sustainable objectives of growth, internationalisation and technology transformation. Our core aim remains to keep our customers at the centre of everything we do, while providing a competitive suite of products delivered through an omnichannel approach. Our stance remains proactive to anticipate trends and remain a step ahead of both planned and unexpected change.

BNF Bank Staff

You have worked in many countries. What’s been most surprising to you about Malta’s journey as a financial service centre?

Malta has a very robust regulatory framework, including AML and CFT legislation which has enabled the financial services sector to flourish into a main economic pillar. Despite its size and not being endowed with any natural resources except from sun and sea, Malta has managed to establish itself as a centre for foreign direct investment offering hard-working, specialised human resources, which has to be highlighted as one of its main strengths. Its geographical location makes it the perfect stepping stone to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. During the past years, economic performance has been strong and its resilience to outside economic shocks provide the best environment for investment to continue growing.

Bio:

Michael Collis was appointed as Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of BNF Bank in August 2017. He has extensive banking experience having worked in the international banking industry in excess of 30 years. During this time, he has served on a number of bank boards and held senior positions in banks with responsibility for a wide variety of activities including retail and wholesale banking, corporate finance and private banking. He served as CEO and Executive Director of Ahli United Bank (UK) Limited, a UK-licensed bank regulated by the FSA. He also served as Senior Deputy Group CEO of Ahli United Bank B.S.C. (Bahrain). Prior to that, he served as executive director and head of European corporate finance at Nikko Bank, a UK-licensed bank regulated by the FSA. He originally started his banking career with Lloyds Bank p.l.c and subsequently joined Mizuho Bank where he held various senior positions and headed the bank’s UK corporate banking and corporate finance activities for over ten years. Michael Collis is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and the University of Pennsylvania. He holds the Financial Times Non-Executive Director Diploma.

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