CEC – a hybrid
30 july 2009
I recently witnessed the relaunch of CEC under the new name of CEC Bank. Strategy or not, from the House of Savings and Consignments (in Romanian: Casa de Economii și Consemnațiuni) came the Bank with some initials in front: the House of Savings and Consignments Bank. The interesting approach actually focused on selling to a strategic investor. Otherwise, I can’t explain to myself the component ”Bank” in English with the already well-known initials to the Romanian public, which was not previously associated with a bank. And if it is focused on sales, what do we do with those who ”save and record”? They got lost after many years of positioning as a ”people’s bank”, known as such by everyone. It is clear – the state wants to get rid of the CEC, and the so-called rebranding, minimal modernization and launch of new products were made only to ignite the interest of foreign investors. The initials CEC mean nothing to a foreign investor, only to Romanians.
The business strategy thus became a hybrid with CEC trying to get rid of the many small investors, whom it had already lost anyway after years of disinterest and scandals. They were lost to fewer investors but which had a little more money. However, CEC is still trying to regain some of the small and many investors with advertising messages, but not too loud, because it became ”Bank” only for a few potential investors. When you visit a CEC office you will notice that the IT facilities are poor, the calculations for a loan are most often done ”by hand” – this only happens after submitting a written request to the CEC and only after paying a fee. Until you pay the tax you do not receive anything, not even a piece of information, a schedule, general conditions, nothing. I was asked 400 lei to calculate the refinancing of a loan at another bank. I personally experienced this issue as a ”mystery shopper” at a large branch. It’s as if a sausage maker would charge you a fee just to see their product, at least on the outside in terms of colour, texture and freshness. CEC officials are mostly over forty and the interaction with the client is difficult, uninvolved and not at all transparent. Old-fashioned. Static. You will say that it is natural because it is a state ”bank”. I disagree. A business is a business and that’s it, regardless of the owner.
CEC procedures are not at all focused on the client’s interest. Let’s take an example. My cousin from Germany has his savings and his credit at a ”sparkasse”, which is the equivalent of a CEC. He desperately needed 6000 euros to buy a car for his father. He would receive the money-back from his father in a few days. That ”sparkasse” gave him the money for 10 days without interest, in an hour, after a phone call and a form that was filled in on the internet- simple, efficient while supporting the ”king” called client. And my cousin is not a big customer, he is just one of the tens of thousands who run a few thousand euros a year.
I noticed at CEC the redesign of the logo, the restoration of the interiors of some agencies and branches, of the interior and exterior signage and outdoor and TV advertising campaigns. Arguably or not, I do not think that these visual and verbal measures can counterbalance my hassles and fees paid for a loan to the CEC. Incredibly, the potential CEC client, in order to receive some information, has to pay a fee, bear the bitterness of the officials and fight the internal bureaucracy! Messages like ”our bank” are superfluous after many years in which CEC was not my bank at all, after years of immobility and scandals which ended up in money and customers flowing to other banks resulting in the establishment of a general state of mistrust. Even though it has launched modern products such as internet banking, CEC remains dependent on an indecisive strategy trying to paint its facade beautifully to cover the same old defects and old furniture.
My favourite quote is ”Brand is the feeling you have about a product or service that goes beyond its tangible properties.” In the case of CEC, the predominantly safe feeling is not reliable, it does not refer to a bank, the values promoted are clearly false, the tangible attributes are in fact uncertain, difficult to experience or at best unknown. If the strategy of transformation into a bank is real, the CEC will need many years of hard work of modernization and brand management to become what, I hope, it wants.