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Beyond Buzzwords in Financial Institutions: Expander’s CEO Clarifies Digital Myths

Bartosz Kwieciński, CEO of Expander, gives his unique thoughts on adjusting to the developing digital landscape in the financial advisory sector in a candid conversation. He highlights the importance of balancing technology improvements with the personalised touch that conventional banking clients demand. Kwieciński goes into Expander's strategy for staying ahead in a competitive market, emphasising customer experience and agility. This lively discussion provides a rare peek into the leadership style that guides a corporation negotiating the difficulties of modern finance.

Bartosz Kwieciński


Chief Executive Officer

Navigating legal complexities and market slowness, Expander's CEO provides a distinct perspective, highlighting that true innovation in the banking business goes beyond mere technology breakthroughs, instead emphasising deep awareness and responsiveness to client demands. Bartosz also discovers the unexpectedly delayed adoption of digital solutions in critical areas such as mortgage services, showing a gap between industry hype and on-the-ground realities in financial services.

In the evolving world of financial advisory, how does Expander maintain its competitive edge through technological advancements?

As a company we maintain our competitive edge in the financial advisory sector by emphasising technological tools that support our experts’ efficiency and enhance their ability to manage and analyse a broad spectrum of information. Recognising that the banking industry, particularly mortgage services, lags in digitisation, we leverage this gap by creating specialised IT tools. These tools prioritise facilitating expert workflows and secondly, improving the interaction between experts and clients. By streamlining the mortgage process with technology, we not only optimise our internal operations but also improve the customer experience, ensuring Expander stays ahead in a digitally transforming landscape.

If I may add an additional question, why do you think mortgages are seemingly the last branch banks are digitising?

The practice is simply as such because, as of today, there isn’t a single bank where one can obtain a mortgage entirely online. We are at the end of 2023, in the twenty-first century, and for banks, the innovation of digitizing the mortgage process is just a project in development—it does not physically exist yet. They are working on it. However, I also think that the reluctance or perhaps the low priority assigned by banks to digitize this area stems from the fact that the purchase process is very complicated, and a mortgage isn’t a product that people buy frequently. If things go well, a person might take out a mortgage two or three times in their lifetime, but usually, it’s just once. Hence, it represents a very peculiar representative group. It’s more common for a person to buy a small apartment when they’re young, then get a larger one as they start a family, and so on. This does happen. Yet, this is still rare. The purchase itself is a very complicated process, and I believe that this is the underlying reason for the banks’ reluctance, or perhaps the low priority, to digitise this area.

How are you leveraging data analytics and artificial intelligence to improve customer experiences and make more accurate financial recommendations?

I would say that we do not use artificial intelligence, partly due to policy from one side.

From another angle, it’s also a matter of the undefined stance on it by the regulatory body, the Financial Supervision Authority (KNF).

I also see that artificial intelligence in the financial sector has not spread as one might expect from my perspective because there are significant legislative challenges. AI can, of course, be used for customer service, marketing, etc., but for more serious processes, it doesn’t seem to be the right moment yet. However, since we work with a large amount of data it’s probable that we will implement some kind of solutions in the future.

The main challenge for us in data work is processing this data to find offers that best meet client expectations. Such comparisons are expert’s tasks, as no one would be able to lay this out on paper, and presenting this data in a way that allows clients to compare.

Even when it comes to comparing and presenting offers, that is.

It’s like an additional question: the world has gone crazy over AI, but regulations have not yet caught up with this frenzy. It seems to be a problem not only for the financial industry but many industries in general at the legislative level in the European Union, where legal changes can’t keep up with technological ones, which we have always known. Due to this, the sector we operate in is exceptionally regulated, and every product has its regulations.

For instance, mortgages have their laws, insurances have theirs, and everyone closely watches the Financial Supervision Authority, as beyond the laws, the Authority’s recommendations or ordinances are crucial. And we are part of a very conservative segment of the business.

And I think, I mean, I don’t know the situation in banks directly, but I would venture to say that this will be one of the last industries to adopt innovations. Historically looking at how this area absorbs innovations, the financial sector, the larger one, because something like a blockchain startup, those things are happening, but these are also unregulated companies or very little regulated. But when we talk about banks, funds, these large entities, I think they will also be the last to adopt such innovations.

Also some banks in Poland are state-owned, which brings additional regulations concerning public entities. So here we only have regulations concerning banking itself, but also additional ones for public entities, which means there is an even bigger problem. When it comes to implementing innovations, it’s important to note that banks are so burdened with current legislative changes. Decisions like loan holidays or changes from WIBOR to alternative benchmarks are enormous projects for them, massive changes in systems. And banks, as very corporate and not flexible institutions, need a lot of time to implement changes, and I think there’s no room to even think about AI in this context.

Especially in these large institutions, it’s very challenging.

With the rise of fintech apps and platforms, how is Expander ensuring that its services remain indispensable to clients?

Expander has identified and nurtured a distinctive niche within the financial services market. This niche is characterized by our integration of digital convenience with the invaluable element of human interaction. While fintech startups often target global markets with aggressive digital-only products, they typically overlook the need for personal touch – a gap Expander adeptly fills. We believe in the power of physical presence and the nuanced expertise that our representatives provide, which often can’t be replicated by digital platforms alone.

Our strategy pivots on the harmony between online tools and offline experiences. This balanced model caters to complex financial products like mortgages, which demand a level of personalisation that purely digital paths cannot offer. Our clients value the reassurance of physical branches and the ability to engage with experts in person, particularly for significant life events like purchasing a home or investment property.

We stay attuned to emerging trends and judiciously incorporate those that align with our business philosophy, enhancing our digital footprint without compromising the personalized service our clients expect.

Expander was founded with the foresight to blend technological advancements with human-centric service. As we look to the future, we remain committed to evolving with technology, without allowing it to overshadow the human element that stands at the core of our value proposition.

In a regulatory environment as stringent as Poland’s, this equilibrium ensures that we adapt without outpacing the comfortable pace of our clients and the industry at large. We respect the traditional aspects of our sector and integrate innovations in a way that complements, rather than overhauls, the established processes. This approach has sustained us for over two decades, and it is this blend of tradition and innovation that will continue to set Expander apart in the financial landscape.

What new technologies or platforms is Expander considering integrating into its service model to serve clients better?

In response to the rise of fintech apps and platforms, Expander is focusing on seamless integrations and process enhancements to fulfil and surpass client expectations. We’ve identified that while there’s a surge in digital-only solutions, our strength lies in blending the digital with the tangible, ensuring that we don’t lose the personal touch that is often missing in fintech solutions. This hybrid approach uniquely positions us in the market.

The reality is that despite the digitisation of many banking processes, certain elements remain firmly rooted in the physical realm—like document notarisation, which is crucial yet not necessarily innovative by tech standards. However, we’re actively seeking ways to streamline these necessities, making them less labor-intensive and more efficient. For example, as standard practice, clients looking to apply for mortgages with multiple banks need to duplicate their documentation efforts. Our goal is to innovate in such procedural areas, reducing redundancy and enhancing client convenience.

We’re also keenly aware of the trend towards automation and self-service within the financial industry. Clients increasingly prefer to conduct business online, minimising physical interactions. Our development strategy for applications reflects this, allowing clients to independently handle straightforward aspects of the financial process. Yet, we’re cognisant of the complexities that might overwhelm clients, which is why we maintain expert support for the more intricate stages. This ensures that while clients enjoy the autonomy our digital tools provide, they also have the reassurance of expert guidance when needed.

In essence, our vision for client service is to run parallel paths—where the digital and the personal intersect seamlessly. Clients can regulate their journey, handling what they’re comfortable with on their own while having access to expert advice when necessary. This balanced approach, which respects client comfort levels and the complexities of financial services, is what makes Expander’s offerings indispensable in an increasingly digitized world.


The financial advisory landscape has changed significantly in recent years. What do you see as the three most impactful developments specific to Poland?

The financial advisory sector has served as a barometer for the economic climate because demand for services like mortgage loans is tied to interest rates, which reflect the broader economy. We’ve witnessed an extraordinary acceleration in the interest rate cycle—rapid decreases followed by swift increases—events that typically unfold over several years but have recently transpired in just two or three. This required us to adapt quickly to these volatile conditions.

One of the main challenges has been managing the irregular demand: at times, it’s either been nonexistent or overwhelming. For example, if you’re accustomed to serving 100 clients per month and suddenly need to serve 1,200 in a single month, that’s a drastic shift. This surge in demand, whether it balloons or disappears, has been our greatest challenge. We’ve seen it manifest when providing secure loans—services had to be concentrated in peak months like July and August. Banks, overwhelmed by the volume of credit applications, often lack the capacity to handle such numbers.

Looking at the longer term, banks are beginning to open up to integrations with intermediaries. We have become their top choice, receiving more inquiries this year than in the past few years combined. It’s evident that strategies are changing, and crucially from our perspective, the market share of intermediaries in the mortgage sector has been growing, now exceeding 50% of all mortgage loans issued.

This trend towards intermediation is apparent across industries, whether it’s purchasing food, vacations, or airline tickets—consumers increasingly prefer the assistance of a broker to help them choose the best offer. In the past 10-15 years, the role of the intermediary was not seen as crucial by customers, but today’s generation, accustomed to having information ready for comparison, is more inclined to use our services. This indicates that the position of our industry is secure and likely to grow, which is encouraging, especially in a market environment where the trend is towards brokerage.

In the broader context of development, technology, and innovation, most startups aim to reduce costs and shorten the supply chain, eliminating unnecessary intermediaries and thus increasing margins for companies. Fortunately, in our sector, this trend is working in the opposite direction, highlighting the enduring value and growth of our role as intermediaries.

What are the most significant trends shaping the future of retail banking?

In today’s dynamically developing financial world, we observe several key trends that are gaining importance. Among them, artificial intelligence must be mentioned first, enabling the development of increasingly advanced and personalised solutions. Thanks to AI, we can better understand the needs of our customers and provide them with products and services that are perfectly tailored to their expectations.

Through strategic partnerships and using the databases and benefits from our partners, we are able to expand our offer and provide even more advantages to our customers. Collaboration with various companies, such as Allegro, Empik, or Ikea, allows us to reach a wider audience and build stronger relationships with customers.

An extremely important element we focus on is the quality and customer service model. We strive to ensure that every interaction with our bank is as positive as possible. We constantly improve our procedures to meet the growing expectations of our customers and provide them with the highest level of service.

Sales and analytics based on prevailing customer trends are other key areas for us. We develop modern sales strategies based on deep data analysis and customer behaviour. This allows us to create tailor-made offers and precise targeting, which results in greater effectiveness of our actions.

All these trends are interconnected and aim to create a better, more innovative, and customer-centric business model that will allow us to maintain a competitive advantage in the market.

How is Expander adapting to the global trend of democratising financial knowledge and resources?

Expander has taken on the role of not just facilitating mortgage transactions but also educating clients about the broader financial implications. We don’t focus solely on securing the lowest margins and instalments. Instead, we aim to give our clients a comprehensive understanding of how a mortgage will impact their household economy before, during, and after the loan term. Part of our mission is to help clients navigate the risks associated with such commitments.

Dealing with real estate, we have a developed line of property-related services. We offer guidance in property selection, comparing developer offers, and managing the entire transaction. Our expertise allows us to highlight the features of the properties clients are interested in purchasing. We take a holistic approach to transactions, considering the client’s preferences and providing a wider context for their decisions.

Our clients often purchase properties in cities where they do not reside daily. They may rent for a while before buying, and lack local market knowledge. Our real estate experts can guide them, for instance, by showing what type of property their budget would afford in different areas of the city. We provide a comprehensive view of their potential investment, considering various property features.

Expander’s approach is about understanding the client’s needs related to real estate and mortgage loans. While we discuss insurance and other products, it’s our experts’ task to recognize and advise on these needs. Not everyone is aware of their options or the range of products available, so we assist in elucidating those needs.

Unlike banks, where the focus is often on the product a customer inquires about, Expander’s role as a multi-broker for banks and other products allows us to quickly scan a client’s finances and suggest a tailored portfolio of solutions. The financial advisory role has evolved, and while today one can be either a financial intermediary or an advisor, the advisory model, according to the law, requires payment for services, which isn’t yet prevalent in Poland. Nonetheless, within our capabilities and offerings, we strive to match the best solutions to our clients’ expectations.

How has the role of a financial advisor transformed over the last decade, and where do you see it heading in the next 5 years?

In recent years, the financial advisory landscape has become increasingly complex. There may be fewer banks than before, but the variety and complexity of financial products have significantly increased. Today’s financial advisors must navigate a much broader array of options, making it more challenging to compare offers and find the right fit for a client.

The role of a financial advisor now goes beyond simply choosing the cheapest offer. Advisors need to have a deep understanding of the various bank requirements and how a client’s profile fits into the risk appetite of banks. It’s no longer just about securing the lowest interest rates but also about ensuring the chosen property aligns with the lending criteria of the bank.

Reflecting on my experience since 2008, the focus has shifted more towards considering the overall household economy of the client, not just the product. We approach this responsibility by presenting clients with a broader perspective, showing them how each financial decision affects their entire economic situation.

Looking ahead, the direction seems to be toward ‘cross-selling’ – developing new business lines while ensuring we provide comprehensive service at every stage of the transaction. This includes advising on property choices, mortgages, and insurance products. The market for business services is also growing, as these typically involve more complex transactions.

With the increase in product complexity, there’s a corresponding rise in regulatory requirements. As an industry, we are required to do more from a formal standpoint to satisfy regulatory bodies. This level of sophistication suggests that the future will demand even greater expertise and a holistic approach from financial advisors to meet the evolving needs of clients and the regulatory landscape.


How is Expander addressing the increasing demand for sustainable and socially responsible investment advice?

Expander is addressing the growing demand for sustainable and socially responsible investment advice by capitalizing on opportunities to conserve resources where possible. This is becoming a standard practice across the industry. In our transaction services, we inform clients about the various options available for making more energy-efficient choices, such as building or purchasing homes that are better for the environment.

There is a lack of awareness among consumers about the benefits available when choosing more eco-friendly options. We educate our clients about special financing programs for energy-saving investments, like hybrid or electric vehicles, and energy-efficient housing. Such investments can often lead to better mortgage terms because of their lower environmental impact, which ultimately translates into financial benefits for the client.

We’re committed to presenting clients with these sustainable alternatives, encouraging them to consider an ecological approach as it aligns with financial advantages and broader market trends. It’s a compelling option that we’ve only recently become aware of ourselves, and it’s something we believe is important to discuss more extensively with our clients as it’s very much in line with current trends.

With a growing number of millennials and Gen Z individuals becoming financially conscious, how is Expander tailoring its services to cater to these younger demographics?

Expander is adapting its services to meet the needs of the younger, financially conscious generations, like millennials and Gen Z. Recognizing the do-it-yourself attitude prevalent in these demographics, Expander has developed an app in collaboration with EFI that allows clients to independently complete parts of the financial process.

This solution particularly caters to the younger groups who may not be served by traditional models aimed at older generations. It offers the comfort of handling significant portions of the service autonomously while still providing the safety net of expert guidance. The expert is always available to step in when needed, not to make automatic judgments but to assist if any issues arise during the process.

Expander’s model is designed to offer an optimal balance between self-service and expert support. Through analysis, they’ve recognised that while not all aspects of the process can be fully automated or conducted from home, providing tools that offer comfort and control to the client is a significant step in that direction. Though some elements may not be feasible for complete at-home processing yet, it’s a substantial move towards meeting the expectations of these younger clients who value independence along with the availability of professional advice when necessary.

Cybersecurity is a growing concern in the financial sector. How is Expander enhancing its measures to protect client data?

A few years ago, the focus may have been more on technical aspects, like installing firewalls or other tools that make cyberattacks more difficult. However, in recent years, our approach has shifted.

While technical safeguards continue to be a high priority, we’ve identified a significant gap in the human aspect of cybersecurity. It’s often easier for systems to be compromised through human error than through the servers themselves. As such, we are dedicating considerable efforts to the education of our partners, experts, and staff on how to protect against these risks. We’ve frequently encountered phishing attempts, for example, where someone might receive an email that appears to be from a known colleague asking them to perform an action or click on something, a common deception tactic.

Overall, we’re enhancing our cybersecurity measures by building awareness among our people, which is just as crucial as the technological defences we have in place. It’s about creating a culture of vigilance where everyone understands the importance of cybersecurity and knows how to respond to potential threats.

How do you foster a culture of continuous learning and adaptability within the Expander team, given the rapid changes in the financial sector?

Our professionals are required to stay updated with product knowledge through a cyclical process, which might involve periodic examinations to ensure proficiency due to the sensitive nature of our industry.

Given the potential for significant losses that can result from a lack of expertise, we place a high emphasis on the mastery of substantive matters, including product knowledge and procedural acumen. This enforced cyclical education, however, is only one aspect of our approach.

Beyond the mandatory training, we’ve cultivated a culture within our organization that emphasizes the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and solutions actively. This is facilitated through internal forums for information exchange. Given that our work often involves devising solutions for clients’ problems, the vast network within our organization means that there’s always someone to consult, having likely encountered a wide array of cases.

Moreover, we maintain a learning culture by leveraging our role in the market. Expander is often called upon for expert commentary on macro changes, interest rates, or credit holidays, among others. Our research department produces analyses and materials that are not only intended for external dissemination but are also shared internally to enrich our collective expertise. This strategy ensures that knowledge acquisition is a continuous, dynamic process that benefits both our clients and our internal operations.

As a leader, how do you balance driving innovation while maintaining the trustworthiness and reliability that clients expect from a financial advisory firm?

To ensure a balance between innovation and maintaining trust and reliability, Expander acknowledges that the employment landscape in the financial sector is changing. Where once there were multiple bank branches on a single street, now seeing just one is considered sufficient. This reflects a broader trend in the financial services industry, where jobs are being impacted by a variety of innovations, especially in the era of artificial intelligence.

From my perspective, the main threat in terms of motivating our staff is the possibility that these innovations could replace the roles of financial experts. Our strategy has been to develop tools that support our employees’ work rather than aiming to replace them. We recognise that we cannot avoid innovation or halt technological progress. However, the goal is not to replace experts but to enable them to provide the best possible services.

We aim to facilitate the handling of the largest possible number of clients in the shortest amount of time. This strategy I have chosen for the company helps us maintain our edge. It’s about harnessing technology to enhance our capacity and efficiency without compromising the expert personal touch that our clients value.

From your leadership journey in the financial advisory sector, what key piece of advice would you share with emerging leaders in this industry?

If I were to offer a key piece of advice to emerging leaders in the financial advisory sector, it would be to focus on the needs of the clients. The success of our company, Expander, is not because we have the best marketing or processes, but because we have built strong relationships based on trust and recommendations over our twenty-two-year history.

Most of our experts thrive because they have served their clients well over the years and have established themselves as the go-to professionals in their local markets. When people think about getting a mortgage, they think of going to someone from Expander. This isn’t to say that marketing isn’t necessary, but our strong position in the market comes from our commitment to our clients’ needs.

Our approach is always client-centric, not marginal or conveyor-belt-like. We take the time to understand each client’s unique situation, recognising that some may need several hours to comprehend the commitment they are making with a mortgage. This level of empathy towards our clients is crucial. People need to feel understood and supported, especially when making such stressful financial commitments.

Therefore, empathy towards our clients’ situations is key. The weight of a financial transaction is significant, and clients appreciate when we acknowledge and share the importance of their decisions. This client-focused approach, I believe, is why artificial intelligence won’t quickly replace us, especially when it comes to emotional intelligence, which is perhaps the most challenging aspect to replicate.

What piece of advice would you have for people who wants to achieve what you did?

I would say the key is to stay closely connected to the business itself. Throughout my career, even as I moved up the career ladder, I never lost touch with the core operations of the business. Instead of becoming a “corporate president” who jumps from one industry to another without deep expertise, I remained grounded in my field.

I believe people need to see that their leaders understand their work and its nature intimately. Coming from a background where I sat at the expert’s desk, it lent me credibility—not as someone who parachuted in from another field, but as someone who has been deeply involved for many years.

My advice would be to remain faithful to your industry—know your business, your partners, and your suppliers inside out. This understanding and orientation towards the industry you serve will build your credibility.

Moreover, always aim for personal and professional growth. This has been the foundation of my entire career. I’ve often made decisions that weren’t immediately beneficial but were made with the conviction that they would pay off in the long run.

Lastly, don’t isolate yourself in an ivory tower. Stay close to your people and your business, understanding it inside out. It’s important to know your team personally, their results, and to stay actively involved. Such closeness to the ground operations will not only keep you informed but also ensure that the decisions you make are relevant and impactful.

As the financial world continues to evolve, what core skill or trait do you believe future leaders in this sector should hone to remain impactful and successful?

The core skill I think is well-understood flexibility. You can’t be lukewarm or indecisive; you must quickly adapt not only to changing market conditions but also to the changing environments and expectations set by different ownerships and their visions.

The ability to navigate and thrive in diverse circumstances, both market and organisational, is crucial. However, this adaptability should be paired with calmness when approaching changes. It’s about not impulsively jumping on every innovation or trend that surfaces on Twitter or any other platform.

A sense of measured consideration is essential when embracing new trends, rather than responding to every headline on the business news. It’s not about riding the waves of trends like TikTok challenges, where everyone is doing the same thing at the moment. What distinguished me was approaching these changes with tranquility and thoughtfulness, not with distance but with a deliberate mindset.

Being a good leader isn’t about capturing trends on TikTok; it’s about carefully considering each move, not just reacting to the current fad. It’s about thoughtful engagement rather than just being seen to keep up with the latest fashions.

Efi Heart

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