Rebranded from AgriBank plc in late 2023, Lidion Bank plc continues its predecessor’s commitment to providing a customer-centric service to corporate clients, while serving the digital advertising industry. CEO Jonathan Bellizzi oversees a strategic approach to empowering SMEs in the space, as Lidion Bank navigates in the intersection of technology and finance to enhance its holistic offering of custom-designed financial services and customer experiences.

“I’m obsessed with the customer,” begins Lidion Bank CEO Jonathan Bellizzi, when asked to name the newly rebranded bank’s key to success. “Everything we do revolves around the customer. Values such as integrity, transparency, diligence, consistency, and accountability are imperative and not up for compromise. I am a firm believer in fostering an environment that encourages continuous improvement and innovation, pushing us to constantly seek out ways to serve our clients better.”

This customer-centric approach has been a recurring theme throughout Jonathan’s career within the financial services sector, where he has garnered a wealth of experience in payments, cards, electronic money, risk management, and business development. Jonathan’s journey in the banking sector commenced in 2006 with a short stint at Lombard Bank Malta plc, followed by a role at APS Bank plc. After completing his studies in Financial Services and Associateships at the University of Manchester, UK, he transitioned to Novum Bank Ltd. There, he played a pivotal role in setting up the Mastercard licence and launching various card programmes on the German and Swiss markets. In 2017, Jonathan moved to Insignia Cards Ltd, serving first as COO and then as General Manager. This position paved the way for his next career shift in 2019 to AgriBank plc.

“Leading a financial institution and a bank are significantly different undertakings. It’s like comparing apples with oranges. When you’re at the helm of a bank, your responsibilities extend beyond simply expanding its balance sheet and financial metrics: you’re also the guardian of your customers’ deposits, ensuring their assets are safe and secure,” he explains.

Onboarding in 2019 also presented other challenges, he goes on: “at that time we were seeking fresh investment and facing financial losses, while Malta was experiencing a particularly difficult phase within the banking industry, struggling with a grey list status and navigating the global uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that came about later. That said, the path has been thrilling, demanding and fulfilling.”

Indeed, the years since have seen a series of milestones both for the bank and for Jonathan – not least when he led the major rebranding exercise from AgriBank plc to Lidion Bank plc in 2023, solidifying its new scope.

“Shaping the bank into the valued entity it is today stands as my landmark career moment,” he shares. “When I joined, we were running a shrinking agricultural portfolio and a non-existent corporate banking portfolio, incurring losses and operating with a modest team of just 13 employees. Now, the bank boasts profitability with substantial double-to-triple-digit growth across nearly all products and has expanded its workforce to 45 dedicated professionals. While we have invested in growing our team and improving our IT infrastructure, we have also moved away from our agricultural portfolio towards the digital advertising industry, so we felt the time was ripe to rebrand.”

Granted its licence in October 2012, the former AgriBank plc initially carved its niche by offering asset finance solutions tailored to the UK agricultural sector, before expanding in 2017 to offer banking services to locally registered companies in Malta. The strategic choice in 2021 to pivot towards serving the digital advertising industry took the bank in a new direction that tapped into a potential-packed emerging market, Jonathan reveals. “This shift played a crucial role in propelling our success forward, allowing us to tap into the growing potential of digital marketing and cater to the financial needs of an increasingly digital economy. By aligning with SMEs, we not only diversified our portfolio but also contributed to the growth of this vital sector, further underlining our commitment to innovation and adaptive business strategies.”

Today, Lidion Bank’s holistic service model centres around the three foundational pillars of financing, services and technology, each addressing specific challenges that SMEs operating within the digital advertising industry typically face.

“Most traditional banks lack the appetite for this industry, but I believe banks should be seen as business enablers – facilitators that empower businesses to reach their full potential, rather than as cumbersome institutions that may impede progress. An SME working in this space has multiple relationships, so we want to offer them a onestop shop. Recognising the unique cash flow challenges and investment needs of the industry, Lidion Bank offers tailored financial solutions such as specialised loans, asset finance for the digital industry and bespoke financing arrangements,” Jonathan explains, also describing the bank’s specifically designed suite of support services that caters to SMEs’ growth and scalability needs with multicurrency accounts, local collections and a suitable treasury solution.

“And at the heart of Lidion Bank’s offerings is a robust technological platform,” he adds. “This offers seamless online banking experiences, integrates with digital advertising ecosystems for efficient payments and settlements, and provides real-time financial data that can help digital advertisers manage their cash flows more effectively. Investment in state-of-the-art cybersecurity measures will also ensure that clients’ financial transactions and data stay protected in an industry that is particularly sensitive to the integrity and security of digital information.”

However, navigating the digital advertising space also brings challenges, Jonathan confirms. “Among these is the evolving regulatory framework. We need to ensure compliance, while still offering efficient and innovative services,” he says. “Companies in this space move quickly and demand banking partners that can keep up with their pace, with financial services that are not just robust and reliable, but also flexible and responsive to their rapidly changing needs. Likewise, staying ahead of the competition requires constant innovation, exceptional customer service and a keen understanding of the industry.”

Apart from a comprehensive rebranding initiative, 2023 represented an extraordinary year in terms of consistent growth for Lidion Bank. This impressive growth journey will soon physically manifest this year, as the bank moves to a new location at Trident Park, in a dynamic space that will both accommodate its growing team and provide an environment that fosters innovation and collaboration.

Jonathan highlights that last year also brought opportunities across the financial sector. “The shift in the monetary policy landscape since July 2022, marked by the ECB’s decision to raise interest rates, has presented opportunities both for Lidion Bank and the broader financial industry. While the era of higher interest rates does translate into increased borrowing costs, which impacts the cost of capital for businesses and consumers alike, this environment offers tangible benefits for cash-rich businesses and individuals who now have the prospect of earning interest on their deposits – a concept that has been almost dormant.”

Having capitalised on these opportunities through offering competitive interest rates for various deposit products and with the launch of a financial product tailored to the current climate – a 31-day notice account – Jonathan is confident that 2024 will bring more of the same success for Lidion Bank amid the ever-changing financial market.

“The financial services industry is poised to undergo a significant evolution over the coming years, propelled by advancements in technology. The digital advertising sector remains highly promising in 2024 and beyond. Our driving force at Lidion Bank is to consolidate our position as the go-to financial partner for the digital advertising industry, committed to delivering unmatched service, optimising our specialised suites of products and services, and building deeper relationships with clients rooted in trust and mutual growth,” the CEO concludes.

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2024 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders

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