In just three years, Commerzbank DTC Sofia has transformed from a small team of three people into a workforce of 600. This expansion, as discussed with The Recursive, stands out in the IT landscape in Bulgaria, not for its scale alone but for the approach behind it. The company’s sustainable growth has been driven by a strong focus on employee retention and satisfaction, rather than a pure hiring spree.
The following case study will explore the specific strategies and practices that Commerzbank DTC Sofia implemented to achieve this growth. It will examine the role of leadership, the experiences of employees, and the various initiatives that contribute to building a workplace culture that values and nurtures its staff.
Employee Centricity in Practice
At the heart of Commerzbank DTC Sofia’s philosophy is that employee satisfaction is crucial for customer satisfaction and financial success. This understanding shapes their approach to every aspect of their operations.
A telling sign of the company’s thriving work environment is that nearly 70% of their employees have been onboarded through referrals by current staff, a clear indicator of the trust and satisfaction among the existing team. This high referral rate not only speaks to the positive internal perception of the company but also ensures that new hires are likely to align well with the established company culture.
Central to maintaining this positive environment is a focus on leadership training and psychological safety. Through initiatives like the GLAS training program, the company equips its management team to recognize and avoid biases, fostering a workspace where respect and inclusivity are paramount.
This training is part of a broader effort to create a supportive and collaborative environment, exemplified by events like the Collabothon. This collaborative hackathon, conducted simultaneously across four locations, not only encourages innovation and teamwork but also cements a sense of unity and belonging to the broader, international Commerzbank family.
The commitment to inclusivity is further evidenced by the composition of the management team, where women represent 47% of all managers, reflecting a deliberate effort to ensure gender diversity. Additionally, the multicultural makeup of the staff enhances the richness of the company’s work culture, bringing diverse perspectives and ideas to the forefront.
Wellness is another cornerstone of Commerzbank DTC Sofia’s employee retention strategy. We recognize the importance of work-life balance, and in line with regulatory requirements, the company mandates a two-week annual leave for all employees, during which they completely disconnect from work. This complements the importance the company places on rest and rejuvenation.
Regular health-oriented events, sports activities, and a wellness month with a charitable focus not only promote physical well-being but also contribute to a sense of community and shared purpose among the workforce.
Another crucial aspect of the company’s strategy is the emphasis on continuous learning and development. Besides the access to a variety of learning resources, regular ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions are held. They foster a culture of knowledge sharing, where employees from different departments share insights and achievements, enhancing cross-functional understanding and collaboration.
Looking ahead, the company plans to launch a Trainers Community in 2024, an initiative aimed at developing internal talent for training and facilitation roles, demonstrating a commitment to ongoing employee development.
Navigating the Hybrid Work Model
In a world that is now more familiar with hybrid working, post-pandemic, Commerzbank DTC Sofia has adopted a unique approach to this. This strategy, articulated by CEO Markus Kroeger, emphasizes flexibility and employee choice, coupled with a focus on fostering a strong office community through various initiatives.
“We started the Centre in Sofia during COVID when it was mandatory to be in your home office,” says Markus Kroeger, CEO of Commerzbank DTC Sofia. He notes that even after restrictions were lifted, the company chose to maintain the flexibility that employees had become accustomed to. This led to the implementation of a 70/30 hybrid working model, granting employees the freedom to decide their work location without stringent tracking or obligatory office days.
However, the approach to hybrid work at Commerzbank DTC Sofia extends beyond mere flexibility. Recognizing the importance of in-person interactions, Kroeger and his team have been keen to encourage office attendance, not through mandates, but by fostering a welcoming and engaging office environment. “We wanted to encourage people to come more often into the office… to reinforce their sense of belonging to a bigger organization,” Kroeger explains. The emphasis here is on enhancing collaboration and communication through physical presence, but in a way that feels natural and positive for employees.
To this end, Commerzbank DTC Sofia has invested in various events, learning opportunities, and wellness activities such as the ones mentioned earlier. These initiatives are not just add-ons but are central to the company’s strategy to bring people together in the office. “We wanted to give them a company social life which they had been missed during the pandemic,” Kroeger adds. This approach reflects a deeper understanding of the human aspect of work — that employees are more likely to engage with the office environment when it offers meaningful and enjoyable experiences.
The role of leadership in fostering the organizational culture
All these social and community-building activities are not just another way to bring people back to the office – they’re an essential part of the overall culture being built at Commerzbank DTC Sofia.
CEO Markus Kroeger plays an important role in shaping this culture. His leadership philosophy and actions are key components in fostering a work environment that prioritizes the nurturing of work relationships and social connections among employees. “Being a highly people-oriented person, I always encourage work relationships and social connections,” Kroeger asserts, underscoring his commitment to building a cohesive and connected workforce.
“At the core of our approach is the aim to create a positive work environment,” states Kroeger. He emphasizes the importance of fostering an inclusive culture where employees feel valued, respected, and supported. This inclusive environment is not just a policy but a practice, with Kroeger himself setting the tone. “I strongly encourage open communication,” he says, “My door is always open to all employees, and I always make sure to dedicate time to each person who approaches me.” This approach reflects his belief that prioritizing people over processes is crucial for sustainable growth.
He personally engages in the process of building relationships within the team, especially among the management. “I take care to organize regular bonding activities for the whole management team,” he shares. This hands-on involvement serves a dual purpose: it strengthens the bond among the management team, and it sets a precedent for the rest of the organization – managers can ‘feel the culture of support’ and spread it in their teams.
“Why I stayed”: Employee Perspectives on Longevity and Satisfaction at Commerzbank DTC Sofia
Gloria Spasova, one of the first employees at Commerzbank DTC Sofia, offers valuable insights into the factors that contribute to employee retention and satisfaction within the company. Her journey and experiences provide a firsthand account of the company’s culture, growth opportunities, and the overall work environment from an employee’s perspective.
Reflecting on her decision to stay with Commerzbank DTC long-term, Gloria highlights her personal and professional growth that has paralleled the development of the Sofia branch. “One of the key factors is that I can grow together with the Sofia branch,” she says.
She recalls the early days, filled with challenges ranging from fundamental tasks like setting up basic HR processes to more mundane but urgent tasks like organizing the office’s coffee machine. Now, more than three years later, she finds that the challenges have evolved, offering continuous variety and opportunities for professional development.
Gloria emphasizes the importance of team and company culture in her decision to stay. “It is great when you work well with your colleagues, but it is just wonderful when you can have fun with them too,” she notes, describing her colleagues as supportive, understanding, and reliable. She appreciates the nurturing combination of a proactive culture and a supportive environment, where helping others is a norm.
Another aspect that Gloria values is the security and support provided by being part of a large and well-established organization like Commerzbank. “You can implement innovation while at the same time knowing someone always has your back,” she explains, highlighting the balance between innovation and the backing of extensive corporate knowledge and stability.
When asked about how the company’s culture and values resonate with her personal goals, Gloria speaks to the bank’s core nature of governance and regulation, coupled with a willingness to change and act in a future-oriented manner. “We are encouraged not only to share our ideas but also to work on their implementation,” she says, appreciating the value placed on courage, ambition, and enthusiasm. This approach to quality, long-term thinking, and readiness to act aligns with her own professional aspirations.
Gloria’s role has transformed significantly since she joined as the third employee and the first Talent Acquisition Partner. Now part of the HR Business Partner Operations team, she has gained a broader business understanding and experience beyond recruitment. She attributes her career development to the changing needs of the growing Sofia branch and the diverse responsibilities and projects she has had the opportunity to undertake.
Future Growth Plans for Commerzbank DTC in Bulgaria: From Blockchain to a New Office in Plovdiv
As Commerzbank DTC Sofia looks towards the future, CEO Markus Kroeger shares insights into the organization’s growth plans for 2024, reflecting on both the company’s recent successes and its strategic vision moving forward.
“The success of Commerzbank’s 2024 strategy, which includes the digitalization of the bank’s services, is indisputable,” Kroeger begins. He highlights the bank’s strong 2023 business performance so far, noting a significant increase in consolidated profit in the third quarter compared to the previous year. This financial achievement is a testament to the effectiveness of the bank’s strategic focus on digitalization.
However, Kroeger emphasizes that the company’s success is not measured solely in financial terms. “Our success as a company is also defined by the positive impact we have on the lives of both the bank’s employees and customers,” he says.
Looking ahead to 2024, Commerzbank DTC Sofia plans to continue its growth trajectory. “Our team in Bulgaria will keep growing next year as we plan to further expand into new locations such as Plovdiv,” Kroeger shares.
In addition to geographical expansion, the bank is also focusing on integrating new technologies into its portfolio. “We are introducing blockchain technologies in Sofia, which will be a significant step forward,” he notes. The adoption of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is seen as a key element in shaping the future of financial institutions, with Commerzbank DTC Sofia at the forefront of this transformation. “The development of new blockchain-based digital marketplaces is just one example of our innovative approach,” Kroeger adds.
A significant milestone for Commerzbank in 2023 was obtaining the Crypto Custody License, making it the first German full-service bank to achieve this. “Soon we will be able to provide custody for crypto assets based on blockchain technology,” Kroeger states, highlighting the bank’s commitment to staying ahead in the rapidly evolving world of financial services.
If you want to be part of the future growth of Commerzbank DTC in Bulgaria, explore all of their currently available positions here.