An interview with the long-time Head of Legal at Eurostandard Bank in Macedonia
CEELM: Can you walk us through your career?
Jasmina: My 19 years of professional experience in legal matters started with the simple but important position of trainee attorney, during which time I prepared for the bar exam. I recall those two years with great pleasure, since what I learned then proved to be a solid base of expertise for today, including the insight that paying attention to every issue relevant to a legal matter is crucial for success, and if you are not enthusiastic about law, if you are not into legal matters, you won’t be able to go through the thousands of pages of documents and spend many hours in the office and be happy with the job. The next two years, as an associate attorney at Georgi Dimitrov Attorneys, I focused on business law, and then I decided to accept an invitation to become legal adviser to the International Council of Investors – a business and investment community gathered in an association of foreign investors – during which time I learned a great deal not only about the law, but also administrative and financial issues and project management. Five years later I made the change to the banking industry. I accepted an offer to become a legal officer at Eurostandard Bank, and was promoted after three years to Head of Legal Affairs, a role I have performed for the last eight years. In addition to a Bachelor’s Degree in Law, I also hold two Master’s degrees, in International Relations and Political Science, which expanded my professional outlook as well.
CEELM: What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in Balkan legal markets over your 19-year career?
Jasmina: In general, the most important changes have taken place after the members of the European Council declared in 2003 that the future of the Balkan countries lies is in the European Union. This set the stage for the EU-integration process, which required the reform of the legal and regulatory climates, the attraction of foreign investment, and the building of new institutions.
The inclusion of Balkan countries in the association and stabilization process and the granting of candidate status to them changed the legal market by implementing trade-related EU laws, reforming public administration and the judiciary, enhancing the business environment through a regulatory guillotine project, and reforming the tax regimes.
The Balkan countries have faced the long and hard process of adjusting to a market economy, and they started their transition later than most CEE countries, which affected the process of integrating into the EU. They have passed through the process of stabilization and reconstruction but continue to face the challenge of shifting to an environment of sustainable development. The fact remains that the rule of law is inevitably a prerequisite for running all businesses.
CEELM: Tell us about Eurostandard Bank Skopje, and about the company’s legal department. How big is your team, and how is it structured?
Jasmina: This year the bank turned 18 years old. It is a mid-sized bank, but it offers significant and fast access to its products and services thanks to its wide retail network, especially after it merged with Post Bank in 2014. This year is particularly important for Eurostandard Bank as the new management has announced its intention to turn it into one of the leading banks in the country. A new marketing campaign started in October with the introduction of a new MastercardPrePaid Contactless GIFT card. New products and services are focused on the younger population, aiming at smart spending and an enhanced quality of living.
The bank’s Legal department is structured as part of the Bank Secretariat. It operates successfully with two lawyers responsible for various legal matters, such as litigation, contract management, debt collection and enforced payment, and support to credit lines and operations. Considering this wide range of activities – and especially considering the significant success we have achieved so far – it is obvious that its strength lies in the strong qualifications, proficiency, and sensible management of the small team. In these circumstances, success can result only by adhering to a strict schedule, providing clear terms and defined deadlines, and observing the need for both individual focus and efficient teamwork. Fortunately, the tension should lessen soon, as the need to increase the department size has been recognized. To realize this goal, the bank plans to do what is necessary to attract highly-qualified lawyers.
CEELM: Are there changes you would like to see in Macedonian law that would make things easier for the bank?
Jasmina: In general there is a need for clearer definition of the law and relevant regulations.
Despite the fact that the banking industry is already heavily regulated, there is a room to enhance anti-money laundering and anti-bribery corruption measures in both the public and private sector that will facilitate the management of risk of financial crime. Also, in light of the increased reliance on external service providers, I would like to see the introduction of up-to-date principles and programs related to third party risk transfer and management.
CEELM: What is your typical day at work like?
Jasmina: Despite the outsourcing trends in litigation, in-house lawyers are challenged to efficiently solve any legal situation or issue that might occur on a daily basis, promptly and in compliance with regulatory standards and laws. This means that various issues might be on a daily menu, from providing legal advice and support to other departments (including top management) to creating good corporate and sustainable internal policies, tailored to the bank’s organizational needs and processes.
Basically, members of the legal department are challenged on a daily basis to master the balance between the need to provide legal support to the credit department and the need to improve legal stability and minimize risk by offering legal assistance to each department at all levels in the bank. We also put special effort into managing contract risk, which so far has been very successful. Debt collection is a special aspect, as in the Balkans payment capability often varies, so that it can easily become either low or unstable, resulting in clients often becoming either debtors or defendants. Therefore we put significant effort into resolving any legal situation before it becomes mature, to avoid court or enforced payment, and that requires not only clear procedures of conduct, but also a strong business ethic, as well as professionalism and negotiating and persuasion skills.
The fulfilment of all these tasks, along with our management of various disputes and enforcement procedures, requires a dedicated and consistent daily effort, teamwork, and information exchange, which – along with the overall coordination, communication, and management – mark every single one of my days.
CEELM: Was it always your plan to go (and stay) in-house?
Jasmina: I am convinced that trying different areas of practice and changing your professional environment allows you to feel the differences, to grow, to see other perspectives, to learn, and to push yourself forward. I am also convinced that experiencing various sectors and an advanced education are crucial for successful career development. Driven by my pursuit of these goals, I have managed to upgrade my educational background and extend my area of proficiency above the minimum needed to act as an attorney, and exactly this approach influenced my career choices.
From the other side, I strongly believe that my experience as an attorney significantly contributes to my success as an in-house lawyer. The shift to international surroundings and later the banking industry was motivated by the broadening and deepening of my experience.
This is why, beside the main focus on management and coordinating the overall legal service, including contracting, settling disputes, and litigation (which has been my main domain more than decade), I have also been appointed a member of various professional committees at the bank that needed my specific expertise, which itself is a confirmation that my professional background is recognized as desirable for success.
CEELM: What was your biggest single success or greatest achievement with Eurostandard Bank in terms of particular projects or challenges? What one thing are you proudest of?
Jasmina: I am especially proud that, since my appointment as the person in charge of managing the increased legal risk which resulted from the merged litigation registers of Eurostandard Bank and Post Bank following their integration in 2014, there has been an 80% decrease in the number and value of court disputes. In addition, we have achieved positive outcome in more than 80% of legal disputes, significantly decreased the number of court procedures initiated against the bank, and lowered third party risk to its lowest point, all of which positively contributes to the bank’s reputation.
Also, the one thing that I am personally proudest of is that I was invited to deliver a lecture to students at the law faculty from which I myself graduated. This confirmed my efforts to become respected for my professional expertise – and inspired my ambition even more than the success itself.
CEELM: What one person would you identify as being most important in mentoring you in your career – and what in particular did you learn from that position?
Jasmina: Fortunately, there are several of them – people from whom I have learned not only to understand what is behind the legal paragraphs and contract clauses, but also how to explain rights and obligations, how to negotiate, how to communicate clearly, how to make effective decisions and perform duties with professional integrity and ethics. Those are the attorneys I have worked for and my superiors, who gave me important legal insights and shared their experience without hesitation, and in this context I am particularly appreciative to my first employer, Attorney at Law Georgi Dimitrov.
CEELM: On the lighter side, what is your favorite book or movie about lawyers or lawyering?
Jasmina: In the realm of law, I am actually inspired by real characters – lawyers and law professors and their own examples and literature – which means that my favorite books and movies about lawyers are not about lawyers. They are actually about justice, integrity, and the charming persuasion of facts and truth – involving Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.