Known across the globe as a symbol of quality, a product created in Germany is considered very reliable and well-respected. However, what about financial products in the digital era co-created by Commerzbank’s team in Germany and the company’s DTC in Bulgaria? To discover how these new instruments are developed, we headed to Sofia’s Business Park where we sat down with Ivan Levterov and Ivanka Stoyanova, Chapter Leads at Commerzbank Digital Technology Center. Together we discussed how banks can innovate and what is the future of the industry, as well as the transformation of an institution represented on 6 continents with nearly 11 million clients, the technologies they use, and the impact of Commerzbank’s DTC in Bulgaria and how they managed to build an organization of over 400 people in just two years.
Often considered old-fashioned and slow to innovate, banks had to take huge steps into going digital in order to fit the needs of their customers. As the world went all-in digital, financial institutions had to find a way to provide easy-to-use solutions, while operating in a heavily regulated market. To do so, they focused on the customer and their requirements for a modern bank.
“The way banking is done has changed dramatically in the past years. Customers nowadays don’t want to go to an office, wait in queues, or commute for a long time to go and transfer money or request a loan. Their smart device is everything they need to manage all financial operations. And we have to take that into account when developing Commerzbank’s digital solutions. By using them, customers should be able to make every operation possible with just a few clicks,” Ivan Levterov, Chapter Lead at Commerzbank’s DTC in Sofia explains.
Every device can be restarted. Try with a bank!
Ivan and his colleague Chapter Lead Ivanka Stoyanova share that one of the main reasons to join Commerzbank in 2021 was the motto of the company and what stood behind it. “Every device can be restarted. Try with a bank!” were the two sentences, and diving deeper they explained there were two aspects to make this restart possible – a change in the mindset and a change in the technologies.
“Changing the mindset is the biggest challenge an organization has to overcome in the transformation process. Together with our colleagues in Germany, we embraced this transition and continued the implementation process of different agile methodologies that helped us with establishing this mindset. This approach allowed us to build successful products very fast, and also build our team to over 400 people in just two years in Sofia,” Ivanka Stoyanova, Chapter Lead API Banking at Commerzbank’s DTC in Sofia.
After switching the mindset, the next big element to transform technology at Commerzbank is to switch the tech stacks used to build the infrastructure. Breaking the stereotype of legacy tech, the bank now implements a wide variety of modern technologies. There is a team in Sofia responsible for the implementation of Kafka, a powerful event-streaming platform able to handle a high volume of data. This is a pivotal moment in the development of the bank as it’s a further step to decoupling the different systems which can work seamlessly together. The implementation is part of the organization’s transition to a data-driven digital advisory bank.
Commerzbank’s Bulgarian DTC is also redefining the credit risk and credit services products of Commerzbank. Although these products may sound quite familiar to most developers in the finance industry, what makes them unique is CI/CD practices used to restructure them. By using them, the team in Sofia can constantly innovate and submit new code that upgrades different solutions.
The Spotify company structure
At first, Commerzbank’s company structure might sound a little bit confusing with chapters, clusters, and cells. However, this model is known as Spotify’s one. A people-driven model centered around simplicity with the main goal to foster a culture of collaboration between different teams in an agile environment. This perfectly integrates with the values of the bank. Sharing knowledge at Commerzbank starts with the onboarding process of every new employee. Whenever a new developer joins Commerzbank, their main responsibilities for the first week are listed in a one-pager. Then, they have to participate in meetings and meet with their colleagues or learn about certain technology or processes.
“Taking part in joint team events (even cross-location) is a big part of our team collaboration, and it goes two ways. Our colleagues also visit different conferences, and after that, we provide them with an opportunity to share what they’ve learned with their teammates. By organizing events, we showcase Commerzbank’s approach to tackling different challenges, and how we solve certain problems in the industry,” Ivanka highlights.
“We have this initiative called cluster day when a member of a certain cluster prepares training and other activities to share with its colleagues and people from other departments,” Ivan shares.
Similar values between people and company
For both Ivan and Ivanka, the reason for the company’s growth and success is the similar values of the organization and its people. Both of them were impressed by different aspects that made them join Commerzbank, and they evaluate candidates by the values criteria when deciding whether to hire them.
Ivanka shares that there are certain soft skills and values that are rated highly at Commerzbank. The most important one is integrity. This means a candidate should be honest, responsible, and trustworthy. Ivan highlights soft skills as the main factor for evaluating a potential addition to his team. He’d prefer to have a person with the right mindset, even if the person lacks some technical skills, because it’s easier to learn the technical, compared to the soft ones.
Both of the chapter leads highly value the flexibility Commerzbank offers to its employees, as people are allowed to decide which one will be their workplace for the day – at home or the office. MTA (Mandatory Time Away) is a regulatory requirement for all German financial institutions. During this period, banks have to stop their operations for 10 days to go through different inspections. By complying with the law, Commerzbank also used MTA to provide employees with an additional opportunity to keep a good work-life balance. During this period, they are not allowed to log into their business computer or phone. By implementing this practice, they guarantee employees can spend meaningful time away from work.