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Oliver Hughes, CEO, Tinkoff Bank

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Please give us a bit of background on yourself, and how your organization plays a leadership role in the financial technology space.
I’m the CEO of Tinkoff Bank and I’ve been with the company since it started in 2007. Before that I worked at Visa for about a decade, including as Head of Visa Russia from 2005 to 2007. 

Tinkoff is a tech company with a banking license. It is and has been 100% digital and branchless from day one, and has since grown to become the world’s largest, independent digital bank by customer base. We interact with our customers via online channels, namely our mobile banking app and our internet bank for those who still prefer their web interface. We provide an extensive range of financial and lifestyle services to over 7 million customers across Russia, completely on the cloud, and strive to make the customer experience as frictionless as we can.

It's this marriage of online and offline capabilities that makes us a high volume and high growth business. To give you some more sense of our scale, we issue over 170,000 new credit cards and open over 220,000 individual current accounts and over 30,000 SME accounts each month. Rather unfashionably for a ‘fintech’, we have been highly profitable all along the way. Our ROE was 69.3% in Q2 2018. That makes us one of the most profitable banks in the world.

How has the fintech industry evolved since the financial crisis?
The 2008 financial crisis created a vacuum of innovation and crisis of trust in the banking sector. It was also right around this same time smartphones became prevalent and offered consumers new ways to carry out transactions without even visiting a bank branch.

Since then, the explosion of e-commerce, emergence of mobile person-to-person payments, increased popularity of online trading platforms and other disruptive online trends have shown that fintech players are often able to meet customer needs more effectively than traditional banks. In fact, ten years ago, many of these banks still insisted that people would always want to visit a branch and speak with a human banker. As legacy banks refused to innovate, lean fintech startups made inroads, particularly with the millennial generation. This is important, because over half of the world’s population is under 30 years of age, and this generation is drawn to awesome customer experience, value (low fees) and whoever can help them reach their financial goals.

For Tinkoff, the financial crisis spurred us to launch online deposits, as wholesale funding was nearly impossible to secure. You could say we didn’t let a good crisis go to waste, but rather used it to become the first bank in Russia to offer online deposits. This has since become the backbone of the financial ecosystem we are now actively expanding.

 So in many ways, the 2008 financial crisis acted as a perfect catalyst for the development of the fintech industry.

What will finance look like ten years from now? What will change? What will remain the same?
A few years ago everyone was talking about Big Data, then the focus shifted to blockchain, which seems to have fizzled out a bit recently. But the problem with these things is that, typically, there are lots of people talking about them, but fewer people actually doing anything truly significant in these fields. Right now, it is all about machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The application of machine learning in finance and banking has the potential to transform banking and the future of spending as we know it. We are on the brink of a quiet revolution right now as banks and financial institutions are finally learning to deploy technology in a right way. Those banks that haven’t learned to innovate and improve their service by means of technology are dying – many are already dead, they just don’t know it yet. At the same time, we see major tech and internet players like Apple, Google, Amazon and Alibaba enter the consumer finance market. These companies have a lot of capital, know a whole lot about their customers and have invested in perfecting customer experience, so it will be interesting to see how legacy banks are able to compete in the battle of the ecosystems.

As Tinkoff looks at the future of banking and spending in the next decade, we are convinced that Lifestyle Banking is where the industry is headed. Customers want a frictionless experience to make “mandatory spending” (bills, taxes, loans, etc.) automatic and invisible, while making “positive spending” (entertainment, travel, leisure) as easy as possible, through robust ecosystems that effortlessly connect you with the ways you want to spend your money.

As for what will remain the same, I think that at the end of the day consumers will still choose the bank that offers the most exceptional customer experience.

What will you be discussing at The Economist's Finance Disrupted Conference?
I’d really like to share about our success in building the world’s largest stand-alone digital bank, as well as what we are planning as we pioneer Lifestyle Banking. When I look at the US banking market and see some of the newest innovations, these are some of the things that Tinkoff has been doing for quite some time now. I think there’s a lot that the US banking sector can learn from its European peers.

I also want to highlight what we are doing in terms of adopting latest technologies. It may not be very sexy on the outside, because it’s not always the sort of thing that is visible from the surface of the user interface, but we are doing amazing things as a tech company with biometrics, RPA and machine learning. For example, inbound customer service calls are authenticated using voice recognition technology. We have also developed a chat support which handles almost 20 percent of all chats. Most customers do not even know that they are talking to a robot and not a human being. We want to get to about 50 percent in the near future.  

In our mobile app for retail customers, we recently launched Tinkoff Stories, which are kind of like Instagram stories and are based on your own transactional behavior and provide content relevant to the customer. The results have far exceeded expectations, having proved to be an exceedingly efficient tool to distribute offers, boost engagement through lifestyle banking, collect feedback and increase customer loyalty. Since the launch of Stories, MAU has increased by 22% and the number of sessions has nearly tripled. The average user now views 17 mobile sessions per month, up from 6 sessions at the start of the project.