Eastern Europe: Which economies present the best opportunities for payments providers?

Eastern Europe is still very much a region finding its identity following the breakdown of the Soviet Union over 20 years ago. Countries in the region are at various stages of economic growth and payments infrastructure development, and the e-commerce landscape looks different as you cross borders.

Financial inclusion and internet adoption (including via smartphones) is on the rise here though, but which countries offer the most fertile ground for payments providers? PPRO’s Eastern Europe Payments and e-Commerce Report 2016 provided the answers.

 

Bulgaria

  • Financial inclusion: 63%
  • Internet access: 69%
  • Smartphone penetration: 48%

Bulgaria’s majority urbanised population creates a unique payments landscape, particularly in regards to many of its Eastern European neighbours. Economic and political change have forged the current commerce climate, but a number strong economic sectors including a booming tourism industry have establish Bulgaria as a growing economy.

Financial inclusion in Bulgaria is on par with the global average and slightly higher than the average in the region at 63%, but is lower than the European average as a whole. Credit card penetration is lower than the region average at 12%.

Mobile banking penetration has experienced limited success in Bulgaria. 69% of Bulgarians have regular access to the internet, but smartphone adoption figures are lower at 48%. Recent improvements in access to 4G services could see this figure quickly rise in the near future. Currently online banking adoption is only 5%, but this too could increase as the internet becomes more accessible through mobile.

Cash on delivery is the preferred method of payment for online purchases at 65%, with 20% of payments being made on card and 7% via e-wallets. Online purchases overall are less popular than in Bulgaria currently, with $243 spent online on average (compared to a global average of $1,304). However, e-commerce is growing 18.1% per year.

Czech Republic

  • Financial inclusion: 82%
  • Internet access: 74%
  • Smartphone penetration: 59%

Czech Republic is the most economically developed Eastern European country, with a steady GDP growth of 6% leading up to the most recent economic crisis. Stronger ties with the rest of Europe has accelerated the Czech Republic’s economic growth, with 80% of all exports being traded with EU countries. Unemployment is also exceptionally low.

Financial inclusion figures in the Czech Republic are significantly higher than the average in the Eastern Europe region at 82% access to bank accounts and 26% credit card adoption. At, 56% mobile banking in Czech Republic is also significantly higher than the region average.

42% of Czech citizens shopped online in 2015, an increase on 2014’s figure that is expected to keep rising. However, despite the high levels of financial inclusion cash on delivery is still the dominating payment mechanism for goods purchased online, with 67% of all e-commerce being transacted this way. Only 22% of payments are made either via a card or e-wallet.

Hungary

  • Financial inclusion: 72%
  • Internet access: 75%
  • Smartphone penetration: 50%

The Hungarian economy is one of the strongest in Europe, and with 72% financial inclusion and 75% mobile adoption rates already present in the country, there is ample opportunity for payments technology to make a significant impact.

Online spend in Hungary is low at an average of $391 per shopper, and currently only 23% of internet users are purchasing products only, but these figures appear set to increase significantly soon. Cash is still the preferred settlement method of online transactions that are made at 60%, but 30% of payments are made on card which is higher than the region average, and with 30% of the population already using online banking the volume of e-commerce transacted using cash should fall.

Poland

  • Financial inclusion: 78%
  • Internet access: 61%
  • Smartphone penetration: 52%

Poland has made a successful transition from planned economy to free market economy following its split from the Soviet Union, and this is reflected in many of its e-commerce trends.

Although overall internet access remains on par with regional average online payment channels are far further developed. Only 3% of online payments are settled in cash; 44% of online transactions are completed via bank transfer and 37% are made via card. Average consumer spend online is currently $705.

Financial inclusion rates are also significantly higher than the global and regional average at 78%.

Romania

  • Financial inclusion: 61%
  • Internet access: 54%
  • Smartphone penetration: 46%

Financial inclusion in Romania is in comparable with the global average, but is lower than the average of the major economies in the region. Credit card adoption is also low at 12%, although it is expected that these figures will rise quickly once the acceptance network and frictionless payment functions such as contactless payments are introduced into the payments infrastructure.

Of all the countries surveyed, Romania currently has the highest percent of online payments pad for in cash at 90%, with only 6% of online payments made by card.

Russia

  • Financial inclusion: 67%
  • Internet access: 71%
  • Smartphone penetration: 45%

Russia remains a country of polar opposites, being responsible for the world’s sixth largest economy but still showing relatively low levels of financial inclusion in comparison to similar sized economies. Fear of cybercrime in Russia and a lack of education of financial products also has a negative impact on online banking adoption.

Cash is still used to settle slight over 50% of online transactions, a figure that is lower than comparable countries in the region but still significant in a global setting. The acceptance network of cards is also small in compared to Western Europe, meaning that the majority of card usage is to withdraw cash rather than make payments.

E-wallets have seen a degree of adoption success in Russia, 13% of online payments are made using e-wallets which is a higher adoption rate than other countries in the region.

Slovakia

  • Financial inclusion: 77%
  • Internet access: 80%
  • Smartphone penetration: 65%

Slovakia is the smallest country by population surveyed in the region at 5.4m people, but has thrived as a free market economy post-Soviet rule, and consistently posted strong GDP growth figures leading up the financial crisis 2008. There is little to suggest this trend will change in the future.

Thanks to a small rural population, financial inclusion is amongst the highest in the region at 77% and far higher than the global average. This above average statistic is replicated for savings account adoption, as 60% of Slovakians currently have a savings account. However, in an indication of financial culture, credit card adoption is low at 17%.

39% of Slovakians use online banking, a healthy figure that could be a consequence of the highest internet and smartphone adoption rates in the region. These figures are underpinned by an incredible adoption rate of digital technology in younger generations, with over 99% accessing the internet regularly.

With an average of $684 of online spend, Slovakians currently spend less money online than the global average, but significantly more than other countries in Eastern Europe.

Ukraine

  • Financial inclusion: 53%
  • Internet access: 43%
  • Smartphone penetration: 24%

Ukraine is still very much a country in recovery following the collapse of communism, as the largest country entirely in Europe there is a substantial issue with underdeveloped infrastructure following the split from the Soviet Union. Border disputes with Russia and bouts of hyperinflation have also significantly dented economic growth in the Ukraine.

These facts are represented in commerce e-commerce statistics, lack of infrastructure has resulted in a little under half of the population currently being unbanked, making the issue more pointed in Ukraine than the region’s average and the global average.

Smartphone adoption is generally increasing, but still lags significantly behind the region and global average at 24%. Internet access is also low.

Of those transactions that are made online, 70% are still settled in cash.

 

For further information download your copy of PPRO’s Eastern Europe Payments and e-Commerce Report 2016 

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