Citadele Banka: Leading the Baltics’ Digital Banking Charge

Citadele Banka: Leading the Baltics’ Digital Banking Charge

Citadele Banka (Citadele) Chief Strategy Officer Vladislavs Mironovs discusses leading a digital transformation charge in Baltic banking

Vladislavs Mironovs’s career underscores just how much the lines between finance and technology have become increasingly blurred.

A technologist throughout his time in higher education and his early career, Mironovs trained as a computer programmer for six years. With technology seemingly the set course for his working life, Mironovs’s first career opportunity presented itself in a sales role.

“Being in sales gave me an introduction to strategy and development, an area where I have since spent the best part of my career,” says Mironovs. 

“I then went to work with GE Money Bank and I managed to get on board when the company acquired a local consumer finance company, which is where I managed to progress well.

“My last role with them in the Baltics was as Sales and Marketing Director, before starting to support GE Capital International to manage strategic pricing initiatives.”

It was from this point onwards that Mironovs began to get noticed, being picked up to GE global talent pool to become a future company executive. It was here that Mironovs went through a series of market rotations, spending time in London and Connecticut. 

GE Capital was soon considered for disposition, though, turning Mironovs’s career plan on its head. And, with a newborn child, he decided to head home to Latvia, where he came across Citadele. 

“Funnily enough, I knew the then-CEO of Citadele, Guntis Belavskis, because when GE Capital was exiting the Baltics, I sold him part of the bank.

“With Guntis, Citadele had new shareholders, with a mission to drive transformation at the local bank. They were looking for someone to help drive digital transformation and shake up the innovation strategy. 

“I initially agreed to help for a short period of time and here I still am almost nine years later.”

Driving innovation at Citadele

With his extensive experience across multiple markets, the question posed to Mironovs most frequently was: ‘Why return to the Baltics?’.

The answer was simple for him, though, it provided an opportunity to lead digital transformation for an entire bank which, for someone in their early 30s – proved an opportunity too great to turn down. 

Now Chief Strategy Officer at Citadele Banka, Mironovs has flourished in his role over the course of the past nine years. 

But, just as in any role, there are challenges – and Mironovs’s success has been forged in how he has managed to overcome them. 

“Today, the challenge comes in knowing that everything is digital – that is really important,” he says. “It’s about placing the right technological bets and understanding as well when a certain technological innovation is not right for you.

“As a leader, it’s about finding out what is best for you and figuring out how to deal with any ambiguity.” 

“Once you have an aligned focus and you know what the right direction is for you, you still need to pick up on the right elements and find areas of your operation where you can be agile and bring the agility needed, as well as any changes.”

Over the past few years, driving innovation successfully has been the cornerstone of Citadele’s success. 

Looking back to 2015, nine years ago, Mironovs recalls how Citadele was very much a traditional bank at the time – with no digital presence, just bricks-and-mortar branches.

“At the time, our customers were primarily secondary customers,” notes Mironovs. “They used other banks as their primary financial services provider.

“But, we had a strong customer service record and a good tech platform. It’s thanks to these two areas we’ve built a totally new bank, transforming every area of our operations.”

Citadele’s first area of innovation came in the development of a new credit scoring system. “At the time, we felt this was going to be the backbone of our transformation as we had very little loans on our balance sheet,” Mironovs recalls. “Then, that future soon shifted to embracing mobile banking.

“While others were still experimenting with internet banking, we decided to build our own native mobile solution, which turned out to be a great technological bet for us. 

“That’s because today 96% of our customers deal with us digitally – a higher proportion of digital customers than most big banks across Europe.”

Building a digital-first omnichannel banking experience

With the majority of Citadele’s mobile-first users, Citadele and Mironovs soon realised how important it was to embed digital banking into its DNA. 

It was not just about building new payment rails that the advent of PSD2 enabled Citadele with – because Mironovs saw this as an opportunity to take the bank’s customer experience to a new level. 

“When PSD2 came and we knew mobile was the way forward, we then built Klix, our local equivalent of PayPal or Klarna. PSD2 also allowed us to build acquiring services that could compete with most players in the region.”

Today, these innovations led by Mironovs and his team have turned Citadele into a real challenger in the Baltic states. “We are not the biggest bank you will come across in the region,” adds Mironovs, “but we are a great digital option and we’ve now amassed half a million customers and around five billion assets.”

Of course, being digital first does not mean Citadele discards particular demographics of customers who are perhaps not as technologically enabled.

“There will always be customers who will want to come and talk with you,” Mironovs notes. “Banking can be some of the most important decisions people make in their lives, whether that’s company expansions, personal mortgages and other crucial services.

“We’re here to deliver that, too. But, we can’t ignore that the majority of our customer base is digital – so we are honing in on this area to deliver quality customer service with quick response times.”

One way Citadele is delivering on this is by developing its new generative AI-based chatbot. “This will soon be brought to our three markets and then later on to our mobile customers. It comes as part of our drive to deliver a chatbot that blurs the line between talking to an actual human and a chatbot – we want it to be seamless.”

Visa: The perfect partner to help drive innovation at Citadele

Of course, it is not just chatbot products Mironovs and Citadele are bringing to the Baltic market: it continues innovating the Klix product while delivering payments and buy now, pay later (BNPL) solutions to the Baltic customer base. 

As the bank scales, the need for partnerships becomes crucial – as not all technology can be built, scaled and implemented in-house.

For Citadele, it is glad to have a partner in Visa to help it deliver leading innovative solutions as it continues to pioneer digital banking in the Baltics. 

Juha Sillanpää, Visa’s Group Country Manager for Finland and the Baltics, says: “At Visa, we see ourselves as the leader in innovation on a global scale. And I would like to say that Citadele is the innovation leader for banking in the Baltics – this is why our partnership is a perfect fit.”

This is not mere rhetoric; Visa has supported Citadele in delivering several of its key products and innovations to the market. 

“We have helped Citadele deliver its loyalty package to the market, which is best-in-class” notes Sillanpää. “We have helped Citadele remain at the forefront of consumer experiences. An example includes supporting Citadele with contactless gadgets and X cards (now C Cards) product line. 

“X cards (now C Cards) is a great example of swift implementation which was delivered to the market in just three months, something which usually takes at least a year. 

“This is so important in a partnership with Visa because it shows we have a relationship that can innovate quickly and implement new technologies in rapid time.”

Moving forward, Visa and Citadele are in discussions to deliver new subscription management payment services, and looking into ways C Rewards (Citadele’s rewards programme) can be made more attractive to customers, as they charge forward on a joint course of continued innovation.

Looking ahead to the future

With Visa beside Citadele, Mironovs is confident in the future prospects for the bank. As the bank announced last year it continue to evaluate strategic option, including potential public listing as it looks to secure further growth. 

Of course, growth can also be secured by continuous innovation, and Mironovs is excited to see what further innovations Citadele team can develop in many areas, including generative AI space.

While large banking organisations have signed lucrative partnership agreements to onboard GenAI capabilities, Mironovs takes pride that Citadele was able to deliver and launch its own GenAI chatbot in less than six months.

“We can definitely see GenAI being at the centre of all our future products,” he notes.

And the future of Citadele will very much look to keep supporting the Baltic economy. Mironovs continues: “We live and breathe the Baltics and we want to be the face of banking in the region.

“We want to continue delivering our new solutions to market across our key verticals of private, SME and corporate spheres. We also want to scale our support for vendor finance, adding more partners to our list of 590 vendors to help them finance equipment, cars and different leasing assets.

“There is another baby in our basket too,” Mironovs says, “and that’s insurance. This is our latest aspiration which we set a roadmap for over the last nine months. As mentioned, many of our clients engage with us via their mobile app, so embedding new insurance capabilities here is something we are implementing now.”

Perhaps most important is the alignment Citadele has with Visa in achieving its future goals. As Sillanpää notes: “Cooperation is key, particularly when it comes to supporting Citadele as it evolves its payment services. 

“It’s important for us at Visa to be flexible alongside Citadele as it looks to meet the evolving needs of its end customers. Keeping security standards high is also of vital importance.

“We’ll also look to deliver the latest innovations from Visa, which extend to much more than card payments alone today. This includes embedded services in the account-to-account space, as well as new services that sit on all transactions that help prevent fraud. 

“To be secure is to be native, so we must deliver support in a localised way. Of course, moving quickly together is key to market growth today. We believe we have a robust network and capacity to support Citadele in the winning journey, bringing it even more customers and helping its business grow.”

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