Online Banking – SEE banks’ main fintech service holds untapped potential

By Valentin Stamov, Senior Business Analyst, SeeNews

  • Online, or internet banking in Southeast Europe (SEE) is on the rise and the market has still a lot of room to grow as it is far from the EU-average level.
  • Internet banking is most popular and well-developed in the region’s EU members, as well as in Serbia.
  • Slovenia and Croatia are the SEE countries with the highest level of online banking usage.
  • As internet banking requires computer literacy, the service is predominately used by younger population and people with higher education.
  • The growth of internet banking in SEE is inevitable – most of the banks in the region have already launched and started promoting their online banking platforms and the people are becoming more aware of the benefits the service offers.

Online banking, also known as internet banking, is the main fintech service that is offered by the commercial banks in Southeast Europe (SEE).

Most of the banks in the region have developed their own internet banking solutions, including mobile phone applications. Internet banking is most wide-spread in the region’s EU-members – Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Slovenia, as well as in Serbia. The popularity of internet banking is constantly rising but even some of the leading countries in the region are significantly lagging behind the EU-average level of usage of online banking. In 2018, Slovenia and Croatia were the SEE countries with the highest internet banking penetration, while the service is still not preferred by the banking clients in the other major countries in the region.

Bulgaria

Online banking in Bulgaria is evolving in line with international standards, though with a certain delay. All local commercial banks offer online banking services but the market is in its initial development stage. Overall, Bulgarian bank customers still do not trust the Internet when it comes to financial payments. Online banking is most popular among Bulgarians aged between 25 and 34. Elderly generations are challenged by online banking due to their inadequate computer skills. In addition to age, internet use as a channel for banking operations is also related to consumer education – online banking is much more popular among university graduates than among people with lower or no education.

Croatia

In Croatia, the share of people who use online banking doubled in the 2014-2018 period. However, their share, at 41%, is still well below the average for the EU-28, according to Eurostat. Younger generations, as well as university graduates tend to use online financial services rather than traditional banking.

According to data from the Croatian National Bank in 2018, the value of credit transfers made electronically accounted for just over 90% of the total sum. Online payments were the leading form of electronic payments, followed by mobile banking. The share of online credit payments made by individuals was just 4.0%, while legal entities accounted for the bulk – 96%.

Romania

Although more than two-thirds of Romanians use the internet daily, the share of population who use the internet for banking operations is still very low. Ac- cording to Eurostat, only 5.0% of the population between 16 and 74 years of age use online banking.

Half of Romanians using internet banking check almost daily the amounts on their accounts, but do not perform any other operations. On the other hand, Romanians have greater confidence in online banking security, as only 10% of them consider possible security issues a threat, compared to the EU average of 18%, according to Eurostat.

Some of the largest banks on the Romanian market continue to convert their branches into self-service units for customers who do not need support for basic banking operations. The lenders are also beginning to invest in the renovation of their online banking platforms.

Serbia

In Serbia, cash payment is still the most popular way of payment, cards are second, and almost all payment terminals are non-contact. Almost 70% of the country’s population uses the internet and there are 1.3 mobile phones per capita, which is a good prerequisite for online and mobile payments growth.

In 2017, more than 20% of the Serbian bank customers used online banking services, which is twice as high as 2010, according to a report by UniCredit Group. Classic mobile banking services are mostly free to consumers. However, in terms of online banking usage, Serbia remains at the bottom among the European countries, but outperforms major SEE countries as Romania and Bulgaria.

In 2017, the number of internet banking users in Serbia reached about two mil- lion and for the first time in the country, the number of mobile banking users exceeded one million, according to data from National Bank of Serbia and market representatives. In 2018, the users of alternative banking continued to grow – mobile banking exceeded 1.4 million users and online banking was preferred by more than 2.4 million customers. Also in 2018, the holders of an electronic money payment account sur- passed 45,000.

 Slovenia

Online banking has been constantly growing in Slovenia, surpassing 900,000 individual users at the end of September 2018. This is a rise of 5.1% over the end of 2017 and double the number of users ten years ago, Slovenian central bank data shows. In 2018, more than 40% of Slovenia’s total population used the internet for online banking. Usage rate was higher, at 53%, among more active internet consumers who had used the internet within the last three months. The number of bank clients using online services doubled by 2015 compared to 2007, but the growth slowed down in the next two years due to the gradual saturation of the market.