The SME Banking Club hosted a two day Caucasus SME Banking Club Conference on May 24-25 in Tbilisi, aiming to promote innovative non-financial services provided by banks, including providing businesses with practical guidance on how to grow sustainably and expand access to finance.
Through its program on Non-Financial Services for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, supported the conference, while the Bank of Georgia was an exclusive financial sponsor of the event, bringing together more than 60 executives and officials from Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East; among which were managers, SME business leaders, and banking executives from Georgia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Russia. Boris Dyakonov, CEO, Tochka Bank (Russia), Olena Prokopovych, from Non-financial Services lead in Europe, Middle East and North Africa, IFC, Manar Korayem, Women Banking Champions Program Lead, IFC, Zurab Masurashvili, Head of MSME Banking Department, Bank of Georgia, Eugen Metzger, Ukrgasbank Board member and Tamar Zhizhilashvili, Deputy Director of Marketing Communications & Business Banking, TBC Bank.
Considering the diverse needs of SMEs prompting many banks to shift from simple lending to more comprehensive banking strategies, the conference focused on digital banking and innovations. It brought together key regional players to discuss innovations in digital, new lending and payment technologies for SMEs, as well as mobile solutions, e-banking, multi-channel strategies, and cooperation with fintechs and startups.
“New technologies and digital devices, together with the rapid pace of innovative solutions have had a big impact on the operating models of banks and banking infrastructure,” said Andrey Gidulyan, SME Banking Club founder. “In order to remain relevant, banks need to implement the newest financial services, including cooperation with fintechs or using new opportunities provided by international IT services and corporations”, he said.
SMEs are considered as the largest employers in many low-income countries, yet their viability can be put in jeopardy by a lack of access to finance. Creating opportunities for SMEs in emerging markets is crucial to encouraging growth and reducing poverty.
“Our experience in emerging markets shows that non-financial services are a win-win for everyone. They help SMEs address some of their key challenges, while also bringing tangible benefits to banks as they help grow their SME portfolios,” said Olena Prokopovych, IFC Non-financial Services Lead in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. “We are helping banks in the region tap into this vast potential while also helping SMEs grow sustainably.” She added.
A non-profit association, the SME Banking Club provides information about the services European banks offer to micro, small and medium enterprises. It also promotes SME banking as a career option for workers in the financial industry. The association provides analytical services and conducts research on the banking sector across Europe. IFC’s Program on Non-Financial Services for SMEs in Europe and Central Asia is funded by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).