Women in management. Double interview with female bosses of Banka CREDITAS and Max banka

September 6, 2023

Getting to the top in the banking world has, until recently, been a male domain. But the world is changing. There are also women who are very successful holding top banking positions in the Czech Republic. Eva Collardová and Ivana Pícková are the proof of that. They had to gain a lot of experience before they were able to get to the head of banking houses. In an exclusive interview for iDNES.cz, they talk about their journey and their views on the banking world.

Since January 2023, Ivana Pícková has been CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Max banka, which has become part of the CREDITAS Group. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of Banka CREDITAS. Since July 2023, Eva Collardová has been CEO and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of Banka CREDITAS.

In the banking world, it is chiefly men who occupy the top positions. Why is it so?
Ivana Pícková: It could be that men will not let women among them. But maybe it is because women do not want to or do not have the ambition or self-confidence enough. Deloitte has been conducting an interesting study Women in Management for a number of years which shows that in 2021, only 17 percent of women were on the boards of directors of companies in the Czech Republic. The European average is 31 percent. These are the facts.

But the positive aspect is that the proportion of women is increasing every year. I have been noticing more and more women on the boards of banks in the Czech Republic, although I think that Eva and I are the first ones to become CEOs. This is of course also thanks to the owner of the CREDITAS Group, Pavel Hubáček, who put his trust in us, thus increasing the percentage of women for this year.

Eva Collardová: Twenty years ago, the management of financial institutions was almost exclusively a male domain, but I am pleased to notice that the position of women in the Czech Republic and Europe is slowly improving. Society is changing, women are becoming more confident and they are not afraid to apply for higher positions. The European Central Bank is headed by Christine Lagarde, and women such as Anne Boden (CEO of the British bank Starling) are gradually taking up positions in the top management of banks.

Any top manager who puts his feet up when the business is good is shortsighted. This is not how it works. In the good times, you have to think about the bad times that might come.

Try to name three most important elements that brought you to the top.
Eva Collardová: I was lucky to have some colleagues from whom I could learn - both what to do and what not to do. I seize the opportunities passing by. I always want to understand why things are done and want to be all in. And the third element is the ability to stay absolutely calm in crisis and to think pragmatically about a solution to the problem.

Ivana Pícková: In my case, it is definitely about loyalty to the branch of business. I have been in banking for over thirty years, which may be an advantage over colleagues who have been in a completely different line of work, meaning they have only been in banking for a shorter period of time. The next one is creativity. And the key element of the trio is certainly single-mindedness, perhaps sometimes even doggedness, which is often a benefit but can also be a nuisance. Mainly to my colleagues... (laughing)

Both of you have many years of experience in banking in a variety of positions in several different banks. How long did it take before you were offered to become the CEO of a bank and the chair of the Board of Directors of a bank?
Ivana Pícková: In my case, twenty-eight years until the offer to serve on the board came up and thirty-one years until the offer to become chair of the board came up.

Eva Collardová: If you do not mind, I will not answer this question so as not to discourage the younger generation. (laughing)

These are offers that cannot be refused. But let me ask you anyway: Did any of you ask for some time to think about it?
Eva Collardová: I really appreciate this opportunity and I knew from the very beginning that I would love to accept it. Still, I took some time to really consider all the pros and cons of the position and of successful performance in that position.

Ivana Pícková: I did not say yes right away either. I wanted to make sure that my leadership concept was in line with the shareholder's vision, so the first thing I did after I got the offer was to outline my vision for the performance of the office and strategic direction and present it as a basis for discussion.

What does one have to consider before saying yes and taking on the responsibility of a senior banker?
Eva Collardová: Personally, I am not afraid of responsibility, but rather respect the complexity of the position. And of course, I had to consider the impact on my private life and my family.

Ivana Pícková: It is a lot, really. Above all, you need to consider your own time availability and constraints, and the compatibility of your ideas about the company's management with those of the shareholder and your colleagues, because the Board of Directors makes decisions collectively. And then there are things like your health. Also, you must definitely not forget about discussing it with the family. You cannot do it without the support and consent of your immediate family.

Your managerial work is not driven by time, but you each have a goal. Where do you want to take the bank?
Eva Collardová: I and my colleagues want to firmly position Banka CREDITAS in the category of medium-sized banks, along with the related activities, the internal control system and all the other things that are not really visible on the outside. But closer in time is the merger with Max banka, which we intend to conclude within the next year.

Ivana Pícková: A successful merger of Max banka with Banka CREDITAS is also my main goal. Making it with as little impact on our clients and employees as possible and at the lowest possible cost. So that everyone is happy at the end.

Each bank closely monitors and publishes its financial figures on a regular basis. When things are going well, bankers get a good night's sleep. If not, they become worried. What is your take on it?
Eva Collardová: When I stop sleeping well, it means I need a vacation. (laughing) But back to your question. We constantly monitor the development of financial results and strive to work on measures leading to profitability on a permanent basis. It is a never-ending process.

Ivana Pícková: Any top manager who puts his feet up when the business is good is shortsighted. This is not how it works. In the good times, you have to think about the bad times that are sure to come.

We cannot predict the future exactly, but we must always be preparing for it to some extent. Having a good night's sleep is essential, though. Personally, I am an early bird, so do not ask me to do anything at nine in the evening, because at that time, all I can think about is my toothbrush and bed. But do come by at 5:00 a.m., and I can give you my full attention.

People think that male bank bosses have no financial considerations because they have high incomes. What about female bank bosses?
Eva Collardová: I dare say that the CREDITAS Group is very open-minded about equal treatment of women. Which is true of both opportunities and income.

Ivana Pícková: I do not know what the incomes of the male or female bank bosses are. Personally, I have never been concerned about whether I have the same pay as others in my position. I must say, though, that I have never felt undervalued in the long run. In the short term, yes, but I always dealt with that by asking for a reasonable raise or by leaving for another company.

And do men and women in banking receive equal pay? Or do men have bigger paychecks like in most branches of business?
Eva Collardová: Personally, I do not make any distinction between the remuneration of my colleagues based on gender, there is no reason to do so. But generally, it is often the case. In my view, it is mainly because men are not afraid to ask for a raise or a pay rise.

Ivana Pícková: At Max banka, we are monitoring and regularly evaluating the pay of men and women in the same positions and I must say that we do not find any inequalities. Our HR is diligent and consistent about this.

These days, we are facing high inflation, loans and mortgages are expensive, some people have no money to put aside and are afraid to make investments. What is your advice to people? What should they do with their money to get through these difficult times?
Eva Collardová: I am a believer in math. I know no other way than through numbers. It means you should calculate how much money you have and think about whether and how you could save it or capitalise on it. And if you are not sure about how to make an investment, you have your male or female banker to advise you.

Ivana Pícková: It is always better to be figuring out how to make money than how to save money. You can only save on unnecessary expenses, and when there are not many, saving is really hard. The income side is much more worth thinking about. Sometimes, it is difficult and sometimes, it takes a long time. For example, if you need to enhance your education or relocate for work, etc... But in my opinion, it is the better way to improve your financial situation in the long run. For me, investing is the only way to maintain or increase the value of the money I make.

Today, banks are competing with each other to come up with innovative ways to improve internet and mobile banking. What do you think is key for the bank to keep its clients and succeed in the competition in the future?
Eva Collardová: Our modern client expects a mobile and online environment combined with the utmost ease of a bespoke professional service. Ideally, without any worries.

Ivana Pícková: Simplicity and comfort. What most clients want is a reliable service that does not change too often or dramatically. Of course, innovations are important, but they must be simplifying things or making them more pleasant, not adding ten functionalities which the client will have to spend two hours studying, or else he or she will not be able to understand them.

If you say “money”... What does it mean to you?
Eva Collardová: Since I come from a humble background, I try to play it safe in my private affairs. I am more of a conservative investor. Professionally, money is both an opportunity to capitalise on it and an obligation to protect it.

Ivana Pícková: In part, it means freedom. To the extent that when I need butter, I can buy butter. And I do not have to waste half an hour trying to figure out where to buy it to save a few cents. But most of all, money is one of the linchpins of the society. Without money, human society would have to be radically different and would be much worse, if you ask me. Without the transmission of value in the form of money, things like culture, public lighting, fire departments and many others could not work. And the consequences would be much more severe. But this is not a topic for an interview anymore, but more like for a series of lectures.

Eva Collardová

She graduated from the University of Economics in Bratislava and received her MBA from UNYP in Prague. She has worked in the banking sector for most of the twenty-plus years of her career. She worked as CFO at Volksbank. She held various management positions at Commerzbank, working for seven years as CFO for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, then managing finance at the Central European level.

In the CREDITAS Group, she has worked as CFO of the Group since October 2021 and as CEO and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of Banka CREDITAS since July 2023.

She is married with two grown daughters and a teenage son.

Ivana Pícková

She studied financial business at BIVŠ, a private university. She has almost thirty years of experience in banking, having worked in managerial and other management positions in leading banks. She was involved in the development of methodology and management of strategic projects.

For example, she managed the Back office division at eBank, held the position of Head of Operations Transformation Cluster at Raiffeisenbank, head of the BPM team at Česká pojišt'ovna and project manager at Česká spořitelna.

Since 2021, she has been a member of the Board of Directors of Banka CREDITAS and at the same time works as Head of Retail Banking. She is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of Max banka.

She is married, with a grown son.


The text was published on iDNES.cz. Author: Eva Sovová.