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Branching out: Przemysław Gdański, CEO of BNP Paribas Bank Polska

Inflation, environmental issues and the fight for talent are some of the major threats for the banking sector in Poland. Przemysław Gdański, CEO of BNP Paribas Bank Polska, shares the bank’s approach to coping with those challenges and how its capital position can support its plans for growth.

Interview by Joanna Socha

Q. What are the biggest threats to the Polish economy and its banking sector right now?

First, inflation, but it is not just that. In the medium and long term, the lack of manpower—and skilled workers, in particular—is the biggest threat for the Polish economy, not just for the banking sector, but for most industries. Demographics, economic migration, fewer immigrants from Ukraine are key reasons for Poland’s tight labour market conditions.

The IT area, for instance, is facing a particular challenge. Polish IT developers have a strong reputation internationally and they can work for anyone. Moreover, the pandemic has demonstrated that one can live in a small Polish village and work for a Silicon Valley player. It means organisations such as ours will have to fight for this talent.

It's also impossible not to mention the environmental issues related to sustainable development and energy. This is a big theme for the Polish economy, moving from a coal-based to a renewable economy. It requires significant funds, proper planning and forceful action.

Q. How are you planning to cope with these challenges?

When it comes to recruiting talent, we are dynamically transforming our bank and moving into an agile working model. Also, we focus on adjusting the organisational culture: we want it to be open, inclusive, society-oriented. I think it attracts young people looking for an employer that cares about values. We want our employees to feel this connection with us, not just because there is a contract but also because there is an emotional connection. It's not an easy task, however. Another challenge we face is constantly rising salary expectations, which are expected to increase further. We have to stay mobilised, precise and consistent.

As for the environmental questions, we have not financed the mining industry, coal or fossil-based energy-focused players for a few years. Instead, we engage in renewable projects, such as sizeable multi-million wind or solar projects, or individual photovoltaic installations at private properties.

Q. How do you support the growth of your organisation?

We base our activities on a strategy we launched in 2018 called "Fast forward"—as the name suggests, its fundament is dynamic growth. We are also currently finalising a new strategy for 2022-2025 and I can already say that it will be a growth strategy.

We are investing heavily in our digital capabilities, both when it comes to what we are doing for clients and internal processes. We are well-endowed with capital and have strong liquidity, so we have all the available elements to realise our growth plans.

We should also mention our shareholder—the BNP Paribas Group. Not many banks have a shareholder that is such a solid, stable and large organisation. The fact that we were able to acquire Raiffaisen Bank Polska’s core business and raised capital of zł800 million from BNP Paribas group, this is a clear proof that Poland is a growth market for the group.

Q. What trends are you seeing in debt and capital?

A clear trend is an anticipated increase in demand for debt financing by corporate entities. If we talk about the next year, it’s an increase of 7% when it comes to financing volume. We are ready for that and willing to be a part of this trend.

Another element is structured project finance. We are very active in this area—year after year, we realise more transactions. We have been active for a few years in the leveraged finance area; we work with private equity funds and support them in leveraged buy-outs.

The last element is that we have a solid M&A advisory team, which is part of the global team, but this one focuses on Warsaw. We have more challenges when it comes to capacity than about who to work with. Our discussions are about whether we should be more selective or grow the team and be more open, even when it comes to smaller transactions.

A bit of background: Przemysław Gdański has 30 years of banking experience, having worked at banks in Poland and abroad, and from 2006 served on the management boards of banks Calyon (as CEO), BPH, Pekao SA and mBank. He graduated from the University of Gdańsk (MSc in Economics) as well as completing a one-year program in international banking and finance at Loughborough University in the UK. He has been the CEO of BNP Paribas Bank Polska S.A. since 2017 and serves as Territory Head for all BNP Paribas Group enterprises in Poland.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.