On June 19, Expocity Albania held the webinar – DIGITAL TRENDS in FINANCIAL SERVICES.
This webinar focused on online banking trends, the necessary innovation in financial services, continuous use to better respond to the different customers needs, as well as future innovation, in order to respond quickly and efficiently to customer requests.

Part of this webinar were:
Mrs. Suela Bokshi, Director of the Operational Division of Union Bank, as well as
Mrs. Eneida Thomaj, General Manager of PayLink.

As a result of the situation created by the global pandemic, several changes were noticed among customer behavior towards traditional services, instead there has been a wider use of mobile applications and online services.

Mrs. Suela Bokshi, Director of the Operational Division of Union Bank explained that the pandemic highlighted a need for online access, especially with the new measures of physical distance, as well as new challenges.

For years, banks have aimed to direct customers towards the use of online platforms and offer more flexibility, at the same time to optimize internal processes.

The pandemic faced many businesses with the need to have this service available to a larger number of customers. In general, the trend of Albanian customers has been constantly, classical or traditional banking – a routine that is followed without a pressing motive to go to an alternative that is more efficient for both customers and the bank itself.

Union Bank faced some limitations initially, such as limited hours, which highlighted the need for the clients to have an efficient alternative – a mobile application, or online platform, quick web access, which facilitates the performance of banking transactions at such times.

Mrs. Bokshi explained that the post-March period coincided with the launch of the new platform, an upgrade of the platform to the latest version, which was more advanced and more usable (for both individual and business clients).

Mrs. Bokshi emphasized that at the same time, 2 phenomena for Union Bank have been noticed:

  1. An increase in the number of customers who prefer the new digital platform; as a result, in a 3-4 months period, the number of customers has doubled;
  2. Increased use of digital platform customers, a positive result mainly due to the pandemic which has pushed customers towards online alternatives (online banking, ecommerce etc.);

Certainly, this moment brings a positive trend, and increases optimism towards future investments in these type platforms, whether it is their continuous improvement or in terms of pushing customers towards using online platforms to fulfill their needs.

What is noticeable is that the customer needed a push, and the moment the customer perceives the comfort, flexibility and simplicity of using such services, such as: checking account balances or performing transactions, he/she is more inclined to use them. These have prompted customers to turn to online tools or mobile applications for simple and everyday transactions, being more efficient with their time. The bank aims to speed up the execution of online routine transactions as quickly as possible, increasing customer efficiency.

Certainly, this does not exclude the fact that physical presence is still important for non-daily transactions, such as the application of loans, or the exchange of necessary key information, etc.

Mrs. Eneida Thomaj, Executive Director of PayLink, addressed the innovative solutions, as well as contributed some important statistics that show the position of Albania, in terms of innovation in this sector, in relation to other Balkan countries, Eurozone, etc. She also mentioned other statistics, which show the changes that have taken place with these trends in different countries of the world.

Mrs. Thomaj emphasized that the Albanian market is a difficult terrain, when it comes to innovative technologies. Mrs. Thomaj contributed some statistics published by the World Bank and the Bank of Albania, comparing the territory of Albania in terms of launching and using cards, compared to the region and the Eurozone, specifically:

“In Albania, 28.8% of Albanians have completed or received a card payment in the last 12 months. Compared to Kosovo which is 39% or Serbia which is 66%, or Eurozone which is 92.5%, this indicator seems that it is lower in Albania.

There are other indicators regarding the use of the bank cards for payment, in Albania this indicator last year was 7.7%, in Kosovo it was 16.5%, and in Serbia 39.4%.

In Albania, 8% of the population owns a credit card, while in Bosnia 9.7%, in Kosovo 10.4%, in Montenegro 16.7%, in Macedonia 17.4%, while in the Eurozone 45% of the population.

These statistics are indicative of the fact that Albania, before the pandemic, has been less inclined towards this use.

Mrs. Thomaj explained that the company she runs, PayLink, conducted a survey of about 370 people, and came to some important conclusions as follows:

  • 57% used online banking, but 66% of the cases were for balance control; this is a tendency of young people, but they are not as certain to use it for other actions;
  • 51% of respondents used mobile banking, but 42% stated that they were satisfied with the service as well as the quality. The rest of the reasons that were not satisfied with the service, mention the fear of data exposure, security of data, as well as difficulty using the application;
  • 46% of respondents make payments for utilities, 16% would make online purchases, 12% would use online money transfer services.

Mrs. Thomaj stressed that it is worth mentioning that 93% of respondents have access to the Internet, and 96% of them have a smartphone. So basic infrastructure to make a mobile or online transaction exists, but there are other factors that can delay further use. The pandemic situation, had a positive influence, pushing customers to such use.

Global trends in online banking services growth, banking mobile applications downloads, declining cash transactions, increased scan & go services etc., show that these services are not a luxury, but a necessity to respond efficiently to customer needs.

The Expocity Albania’ webinar audience showed interest in the discussion, among the main questions, the focus was on several topics as follows:

  • Do digital services provide more freedom or more control?
  • Security of information and data vs. the skepticism that exists in the Albanian Market;
  • Use of Mobile Money;
  • Opening new bank accounts online, without needing to be physically present at the bank;
  • The push towards the use of online services, as well as the suitability – work of the private sector or even the Regulatory and Legal Entities, the Bank of Albania etc.

In response to questions from the audience, Mrs. Bokshi emphasized that the Albanian market is characterized by some skepticism, especially on data security issues. However, this should not be an issue for customers; banks in Albania follow the trends of the most developed countries. There is a kind of economic and psychological transition, to accept the challenge of data access, but it is worth mentioning that these are platforms that offer freedom, flexibility, efficiency and greater control opportunities for customers themselves. The bank offers these platforms, following the latest developments in the banking sector. Also, in terms of information security standards, the highest standards have been applied, and the latest technology trends continue to be followed. The latter are always evolving and updating.

As far as Mobile Money goes, Mrs. Bokshi explained that this is not widespread in Albania, “At these levels we are currently at, we still do not have mobile payment platforms certified within the Albanian market.”

We hope that the possibilities of providing alternatives for payment facilitation will increase, even in Albania, such as: person to person, or person to business. These are developments we look forward to seeing in the years to come.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Bokshi explained that regarding the opening of online bank accounts without physical presence, in Albania this is dependent also on the legal and regulatory context. Mrs. Bokshi continued that currently Union Bank is evaluating, for existing customers, for those who have gone through the process of recognition and verification, the opening of a second account to be facilitated through the existing platform, but of course still remains the physical firm at the end, while the steps others from the moment the customer shows interest, are relieved by the bank.

Mrs. Thomaj, Director of PayLink, mentioned that in terms of access to innovative solutions, it is important to educate the masses. Mrs. Thomaj suggested that this could be done with a pilot group, more prone to innovation, and later with an older age group.

Mrs. Thomaj is of the opinion that in the context of educating the masses and updating them, they need help from the regulatory entity, or the Bank of Albania, for example if it comes in the form of a push, guidance, etc., would help in this aspect.

On the other hand, there is a whole ecosystem where different actors have to play a certain role for further development. From the banking sector point of view, some actors have included in their communication strategies the launch of new products, as well as orientation and information materials.

Mrs. Bokshi, Director of the Operational Division of Union Bank, added that various key players should also promote the functional side. Specifically, Union Bank is launching short online videos or tutorials, which aim to orient customers as efficiently as possible.

Given that in the digital world, the number of clicks to reach the final destination must be as low as possible, this shows us that efficiency is primary.

To summarize the webinar discussion, if we can mention a positive aspect that the global pandemic had, in terms of innovation towards banking services or adaptability to the latest services, it is precisely the push it has given to customers to embrace new online services, mobile applications and other solutions, which during strict measures, for efficient solutions to their needs.

See you in the next webinar!

You are invited to follow the full webinar on link