Arriving At The Right Time: Q&A With Tinkoff Bank’s Max Evdokimov

Max Evdokimov, head of digital and mobile strategy and chief UX (user experience) officer at Tinkoff Bank, talks about how Tinkoff is making digital banking work in Russia.

Global Finance: Tinkoff Bank is young, but it has played a key role in leading Russia toward branchless banking. How large is your customer base today?

Max Evdokimov: We currently serve over 8 million customers via our various online channels, mobile being a dominant one. We are opening over 500,000 new accounts per month across all products.

GF: What strategic path and learning curve has the bank followed?

Evdokimov: The digital era didn’t exist when Tinkoff Bank started in 2006. Given that the first iPhone didn’t appear on the market until 2007, it was quite an evolutionary process to move from direct mail and telesales to online banking.

We were branchless from day one and began as a credit-card monoliner in 2007. We acquired customers via digital channels, while keeping pace with market developments and global trends in technology. We progressively added more banking products—like deposits, savings and current accounts—evolving into a financial and lifestyle ecosystem that covers basically every customer need that is directly or indirectly connected with spending.

GF: What challenges did Tinkoff encounter in persuading consumers to trust a bank with no physical locations?

Evdokimov: The success of our customer acquisition was helped by arriving at the right time. We were serving customers increasingly using digital channels to conduct financial services. We found a receptive audience for whom digital was becoming native, first on their desktops and later in their mobile devices. High internet penetration in Russia also helped to grow our customer base initially, and it’s still helping us now. But we didn’t see a huge windfall of customers in the very beginning. This kind of development takes time.

We observed some psychological barriers when moving customers from physical banks to the online model; but we also saw that once a customer started using online banking, they didn’t want to return to a brick-and-mortar bank.

GF: How large a role do artificial intelligence, machine learning and automated solutions play in Tinkoff’s business?

Evdokimov: Our business model is that we offer a top-notch service to all our customers, regardless of how much money they have. We offer the same approach in terms of customer care and product offering. As regards corporate, we are using the most advanced technology available, AI included, for customer care and service and in areas like voice and data input text recognition. At Tinkoff, we do most of our key IT development in-house, and AI solutions underpin most of our services, starting with customer acquisition and finishing with customer service and retention.

GF: How are digital banks like Tinkoff changing the face of banking and financial-services delivery in Russia?

Evdokimov: Tinkoff has had a significant impact on how banks operate in Russia. It isn’t so much about forcing traditional banks to change to digital channels, as changing the approach that traditional banks take to improving the customer experience and product offerings. Our competitors have begun to invest more heavily in their own online channels.

But we remain trendsetters in how banking services are delivered in the digital sphere in Russia. Customers want an experience similar to ours from their banks, and they are ready to move if they don’t get it. Any bank in Russia that doesn’t move to mobile is likely to disappear within two to three years. Customers demand it, and more do all their banking through digital channels.

GF: Tinkoff’s parent recently acquired an equity stake in a fintech, Kassir. Will acquisitions become a strategic point of focus for the bank?

Evdokimov: We have generated a lot of the advanced technology we use in-house. But we also look for services that are complementary to our business. Kassir, which is the Ticketmaster of Russia, is one such example, with its vast entertainment-product offerings. Following the Kassir stake acquisition, we will soon launch tickets to theaters, concerts, shows and other events, all inside our app.

We are seriously looking for partnerships, with or without equity stakes, in fintech companies. Tinkoff is no longer a startup. We generate a lot of revenue and need partnerships to develop our business further.