DANIEL ARAÚJO

Portugal 2021 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Daniel Araújo, CEO of ASSECO PST, on the company's development over the past two years, technology's role in social cohesion, and priorities for 2021.

How has ASSECO PST evolved in the last two years, and what have been its main achievements?

ASSECO PST is a subsidiary of ASSECO Poland, one of the largest European software producers with presence in many sectors of the economy. In Portugal we are focused primarily on the banking sector. We are an end-to-end software and services provider for financial institutions with an extensive offer that ranges from a core banking solution, to payment hubs, internet banking, mobile banking and more. While we are based in Portugal, we work extensively with all of the Portuguese-speaking countries with the exception of Brazil. One of our long-term goal is to also establish ourselves in Brazil but do not work there yet. The last two years were fantastic, and we managed to grow on all of the key performance indicators. The banking sector has been going through a technological transformation over the last few years, and, as a consequence, there has been significant investment in the sector. Given that we have an offer that is very much aligned with the needs of the sector we benefited greatly from the increased demand that was generated during the last 2 years.

How has COVID-19 affected ASSECO, and what has been your strategy to mitigate its impact?

2019 was our best year ever in terms of company results, and, for 2020, we were forecasting 4% net revenue growth. Unfortunately, it will not materialize this way, and this is directly related to COVID-19. As a result, we do not expect the same level of growth that we were expecting in the past. What we have noticed is that immediately after COVID-19 emerged only the more significant projects were executed, and many customers chose to delay new projects entirely. On the other hand, we also noticed that COVID-19 served has a catalyst to digital transformation initiatives that were already present in many financial institutions. Therefore, while we noticed that all projects non-related to digital transformation were put on hold, the ones that fell under this umbrella took maximum priority. We naturally had to adapt to this change in priority from our customers and, while digital transformation projects have been part of our offer for many years, today we place even more emphasis on this offer than we did prior to Covid-19.

At the end of September, Asseco PST conducted a webinar for the banking sector in several Portuguese-speaking countries called “Digital, the new banking standard: challenges in a time of change." What was the result of this webinar?

The result was fantastic. It is an extremely pertinent topic that interests financial institutions on multiple levels, namely going digital, the COVID-19 crisis, and customers wanting to be digital. At the end of the day, since the financial sector in general is also evolving, with fintechs and large tech companies entering the banking sector, all this is placing pressure on banks to be more digitalized than they were in the past. There is strong interest in at least hearing what we can do as a company to help our customers in this regard. We had participants from the four continents where we do business. We had a large audience, and the webinar went according to plan.

What role has played technology to maintain a positive growth trajectory in this complicated time?

Technology is absolutely paramount in ensuring that society does not break down in general. This is a positive as well as a negative factor. It is positive because we are able to maintain digital connections; all of a sudden, everyone is video-conferencing and as a society we feel more connected than we felt previously. At the same time, society is getting used to this non-contact environment, which personally is not something I like to advocate as we seem to be losing the human touch which at the end of the day is what makes us humans. I am personally hoping that once COVID-19 is brought under control we may revert back to the positive aspects of these human connections which are now being substituted by these digital connections.

Which services are the most promising for the future, and what new products are in the pipeline?

By and large, anything that has to do with client facing and with simplifying processes for the end customer of the financial institutions will continue to be strong areas of growth. As I mentioned earlier, digital transformation projects will continue to be a top priority as these will be the primary driver of the investments that banks will make. Naturally, our development pipeline will follow this important driver.

Is this what you are mostly focusing on now?

Yes, digital has been a major area of focus of not only our company but the entire financial sector and companies that work with financial institutions. Another area that we see growing significantly is security, because as soon as you go digital, you embrace a whole different layer of security. Other growth areas include open banking as well as Payments which are both areas where we are very active.

What are your key priorities for the rest of the year and for 2021?

The key priorities are to maintain our efficiency, make sure we address customers' needs in the best way possible, and have a positive outlook for the future. There is a saying in Portuguese, “não há mal que sempre dure nem bem que nunca acabe," which translates as “bad times don't last forever and good times also come to an end." In general, we keep a positive outlook despite challenging times we face as a society right now. We have to focus more on efficiency and perhaps manage expectations that growth will not materialize the way we anticipated. Now, it is more a question of stability and efficiency in order to prepare for the next wave of growth.