Fintech Adoption in North Macedonia

Fintech Thursdays — Jani Manasov

Fintech on the Rise

Today’s rapidly evolving environment associated with the exponential growth of technology leads to drastic changes in almost every industry. The financial services industry is not immune either, instead it has been seriously disrupted by the new technologies and innovations. The technology, supported by the new regulations, has significantly influenced the way in which financial services are being delivered.

When it comes to financial services and technology, special focus is put on the fintech industry. The phenomenon of using new technologies to create financial services is known as “fintech” or financial technology (European Banking Federation, 2017). The Financial Stability Board (2019) defines fintech as “technologically enabled innovation in financial services that could result in new business models, applications, processes or products with an associated material effect on financial markets and institutions and the provision of financial services”.

Namely, this industry has been going through accelerated growth especially in the last several years, even though the industry itself became more appreciated after the world’s economic and financial crisis of 2009. The investments in fintech are constantly rising, for instance, King (2018) states that “within the last three years, the total worldwide investments in the fintech sector amounted to 122 billion dollars”. The evolution of the fintech industry increases the competition on the financial services market, providing the most benefits for the end users that are now able to use innovative, cheap and fast financial services.

Moreover, customer expectations are constantly rising and are hard to be met by traditional financial institutions, including banks. As a result, many new non-traditional companies are offering innovative financial services that comply with customer expectations. However, there are also existing tech giants that have started using new technologies in order to enter the financial services market. Fintech companies have succeeded in attracting unserved and underserved banking customers. A study of the renowned magazine Forbes, entitled How FinTech Companies are Closing the Banking Gap, states that “According to the World Bank, there are two billion people globally who currently have no access to banking services”.

The financial technology sector advancement has a huge impact on the digitalisation of the banking sector. Namely, the banks actively become digitalised and simultaneously create innovative banking products and services with the help of the new technologies. The EBF articulates that “any actor can be a FinTech, regardless of the kind of legal entity it is. The concept of FinTech should be connected to the products and services offered to the client and is therefore activity/services-based. Banks are also FinTech companies.” (European Banking Federation, 2017). Skinner (2018) points out that most of the banks established in Great Britain nowadays are fintech banks. It has to be noted that the collaboration between banks and fintech companies, in terms of providing more compelling, advanced and affordable services to the customers, is more frequent in recent years and it reflects the newest fintech era.

Global Fintech Adoption

In general, there is no doubt that the global financial services market regulations are being constantly improved and aligned with the latest technology trends. The aim is to support fintech activities by stimulating all market players to offer innovative and advanced financial services and to assure the customers that those services are safe and secure as well as compliant with the regulations.

To illustrate, the European Commission clearly states that it is inevitable to enable fintech activities on the financial services market (European Commission, 2017). Namely, PSD2 Directive of the European Union allows non-banking companies to enter the payment services market. Hence, the third parties such as fintech companies, tech giants, social network companies etc., could provide payment services directly to the users. The purpose of this Directive is to increase the competition and innovation in the financial sector with the final goal of achieving better financial services for the users. This concept regards ‘open banking’ that is being actively implemented within the European Union. Still, the banks can benefit from the new Directive, although at first glance, it looks like they will lose a certain piece of the cake of the payment services market.

Taking into account that fintech services have been rising actively on the market during the past few years, the adoption rate of these services is a relatively fresh research topic. However, there are certain studies that explicitly show that the fintech services are becoming more and more adopted by fintech users from all around the globe.

According to Lee & Shin’s paper (2018), Holland Fintech’s research indicates that fintech services use is prevalent amongst the young, rich consumers. Simultaneously, it is highlighted that the consumers, first to accept fintech services, are the ones with extended knowledge of information technology, the ones who are younger, urban individuals of higher income. The ‘2017 World Fintech Report’ illustrates that at a global level, half of the consumers (50.2%) stated that they use fintech services from at least one non-traditional institution for banking, insurance, payments and investment management (Capgemini 2016). The report highlights that younger consumers who are skilled in using technology, and are wealthier, are more likely to perform the basic financial activities by choosing the options offered by fintech companies.

One of the most prominent studies on fintech adoption on a global scale is the study of Ernst & Young, which has been carried out regularly during the last several years with the aim to detect the increase of fintech adoption index per country. The study uses a specific methodology where the consumer is deemed as a fintech user if he/she has used more than 2 different types of fintech services within the last 6 months (details about the Ernst & Young study are provided in the references below).

Furthermore, the numbers below show that the fintech service adoption rate amongst consumers continuously grows. The studies indicate growth in the fintech service adoption rate all around the world. Namely, in 2015 the average growth of fintech service adoption rate amongst consumers was 16%, while, in 2017 the rate amounted to 33%. The same research pointed out that the average global adoption rate for fintech services provided by banks and by fintech companies, amounts to an incredible 64% in 2019 (picture below). The research verified that users from China and India are leaders in fintech service adoption (87%).

Ernst & Young (2019), Global Fintech Adoption Index 2019, EYGM Limited

Fintech Adoption in North Macedonia

Prior to presenting research data and analyzing the fintech adoption in Macedonia, let us dive into the current state of the fintech market in our country. Considering the available fintech services in our market, it is evident that the fintech industry is undergoing its inception phase and that there is a great deal of work to be done in the near future.

Regarding the regulations, as mentioned above, the European Union Payment Services Directive (PSD2) allows non-banking companies to enter the payment service market. Along these lines, the Central Bank fervently insists to align its regulations with the EU Directives in the area of banking and finances, including the PSD2 Directive. Thus, the concept of ‘open banking’ will be introduced and will put forward plenty of new possibilities and innovations related to fintech services. Both current and former Governors have reiterated that CNBRM takes initiatives to support fintech activities in the financial services market. In this regard, the Central Bank has started a whole new segment in their work i.e. the so called “Innovation Gateway“, with the aim to “…facilitate, to kindle and to enable innovation development in the area of financial services and products in every company that would like to initiate an innovative business activity“ (CBRNM, 2019).

The implementation of adequate regulations by the CBRNM will bring about the entry of new non-banking companies that will place fintech services on the financial services market in Macedonia. However, it can be pinpointed that the banks are the main innovation introducers in the financial sector of the country, since they have initiated active use of the new technologies to create cutting-edge fintech services. At the moment, there is an insignificant number of fintech services available on the market for customers to use. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that in the forthcoming years, the customers in our country will have more opportunities to use new fintech services provided by the leading banks, and by new fintech companies.

After reviewing the current state of the fintech market in terms of regulations, wouldn’t it be quite interesting and useful to see how likely the consumers in our country are to accept fintech services? In other words, what is the consumer fintech adoption index in Macedonia and where is our country ranked on a scale amongst 27 other countries (picture above)? The answers to these questions will disclose how the fintech services market will develop and grow in the future.

Aiming at determining the fintech service adoption rate by physical persons in Macedonia, i.e. the consumers of those services, a survey was done within my PhD research. More specifically, the survey focused on the consumers’ profile in order to discover the impact of consumers’ characteristics on fintech adoption. To that end, the survey covered financial service consumers and it was conducted by way of an online questionnaire. In fact, the research was quite similar to the one of Ernst & Young. The similarity was deliberate in order to easily compare the results for our country with the results for other countries. Still, it is noteworthy to mention that the comparison between the two surveys had some limitations in terms of differences in the involved number of respondents, available fintech services on the market, different periods of conducting them etc. More precisely, for the purposes of our research, ten fintech services were first identified as available on the financial services market in our country. Thus, the users who have used at least two fintech services within the last six months were considered fintech users. The survey involved a total of 158 consumers, including consumers from all age, gender and income groups. The research was conducted at the beginning of 2020, prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Furthermore, following a detailed descriptive analysis of the obtained results from the survey, it was clearly noticed that the percentage of fintech service adoption amounted to nearly 45%. Out of the total number of 158 respondents, 71 users were found to be fintech users. On the contrary, roughly 55% of the respondents, or a total of 87 respondents, had not used any or had used only one fintech service within the last six months of the period covered in the survey. It is important to highlight that the adoption rate (45%) was considered to be the percentage of digitally active users in the country, taking into consideration that the questionnaire was conducted online. Hence, comparing our country to the other 27 countries on the scale of average global adoption rate, our country would be ranked 25th. Although, the fintech adoption index (45%) is quite below the global average of 64%, this result explicitly denotes that the consumers in our country are willing to accept the fintech services, despite the fact that there is a lack of choice on the market and the fintech industry is in its initial phase of development.

As to the connection between fintech adoption and consumers’ profiles, the results have indicated that there is no statistically significant difference in terms of adoption of fintech services against gender. When it comes to result analysis in view of age groups, the highest rate of fintech service adoption has fallen under the younger consumers, in range categories of 25–34 and 35 –44. On the other hand, as expected though, the lowest fintech service adoption rate was found amongst the age group of over 55. Furthermore, the results have shown statistically significant differences in the use of fintech services by consumers with different average income. Thus, the consumers of higher monthly incomes used fintech services more frequently, in comparison to consumers of lower monthly incomes. The adoption rate among the latter group of consumers was relatively lower. The survey results from our country, related to fintech adoption and consumers’ characteristics, are generally matched in high percentage with the global results. The younger consumers and those with higher income were the first to accept and use the new and innovative fintech services.

Another survey within my PhD studies, covering the fintech market in our country, is also worth mentioning. The survey included financial service consumers, with the purpose of identifying customers’ willingness to use certain fintech services provided either by banks or by non-banking companies. The analysis of the results showed that the users were more likely to use payment services provided by fintech and other-related companies, whereby the users would remain loyal to banks concerning loan products, due to the trustworthiness, safety and security of banks.

Future Trends & Conclusions

Considering the aforementioned analysis and current circumstances on the market, it can be easily concluded that fintech is definitely on the rise both globally and nationally. The research data analysis provided valuable guidelines and conclusions on the adoption of fintech services by consumers in Macedonia. The most important conclusions and future trends based on the findings presented in this article will be scrutinized below.

Firstly, the fintech industry is growing rapidly and it will continue to disrupt the financial services market worldwide as a result of mainly three factors: technological advancements, new regulations alignments and higher customer expectations. Additionally, the COVID-19 crisis has substantially accelerated the usage of fintech services since many customers are being forced to use only digital financial services.

Secondly, the research indicated that fintech services are becoming more and more adopted by fintech consumers from around the globe resulting in constant increase of the fintech adoption index in most of the countries for the past several years. Globally, the average consumer fintech adoption index is 64%, however, this rate will likely be even higher in the upcoming research on fintech adoption as a result of COVID-19 crisis.

Thirdly, the implementation of new regulations by the CBRNM will bring about the entry of new non-banking companies that will place fintech services on the financial services market in our country. This will lead to increased competition and will force collaboration between all participants on the market, especially among banks and fintech companies. Thus, the fintech growth in our country will definitely speed up. However, CBRNM and all other involved sides in the fintech ecosystem must keep safety and security of the services on an elevated level in order for the customers to gain trust in the new fintech innovations.

Fourthly, the average consumer fintech adoption index in our country is certainly below the global average of 64%, nearing 45%, which is sufficient if the currently offered fintech services in our country are taken into consideration. This said, it should be taken into account that the research results may not represent the real adoption rate, since it includes a relatively small number of respondents as well as a limited number of fintech services. However, it clearly indicates the willingness of a great part of the consumers to use fintech services. The results also show that younger consumers and those with higher income will first accept the fintech services.

Finally, it may be concluded that the new regulations and technologies, together with the new market players and increased customer expectations, will soon drive disruption in the financial services market in our country. The fintech industry will start advancing at a higher pace and new and innovative fintech services, provided by both banks that are being digitally transformed and non-banks fintech companies, will emerge on the market. Hence, the average consumer fintech adoption rate is expected to increase in line with the trends in the developed countries. The greatest tangible benefits of the new market changes will be felt by the consumers who will be able to use faster and cheaper user-friendly fintech services.

What’s more, the creation of the first Fintech Community by young enthusiasts in our country is just one more reason to believe that fintech growth is right around the corner, and that there is a bright future for the next generations of people involved in this industry, as well as for the consumers willing to accept those services.

  • The results shared in this article, based on the surveys conducted in Macedonia, are obtained by the author’s research as part of a larger study related to an ongoing PhD thesis in the fintech area. Thus, these results should not be used by third parties for any purposes, without the written consent by the author of this article.

References:

Capgemini, LinkedIn and Efma (2016), World Fintech Report 2017, Capgemini, LinkedIn and Efma

Ernst & Young, (2019). Global Fintech Adoption Index 2019: EYGM Limited

European Banking Federation (2017), European Banking Federation’s Response To the EBA Discussion Paper on FinTech, November

European Commission Communication COM (2017) 292 final of 08 June 2017 on the Mid-Term Review of the Capital Markets Union Action Plan

Financial Stability Board (2019), FinTech and market structure in financial services: Market developments and potential financial stability implications

King, B. (2018). Bank 4.0. Banking Everywhere, Never at a Bank. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Business

Lee, I., & Shin, Y., J. (2018). Fintech: Ecosystem, business models, investment decisions, and challenges. Business Horizons

Skinner C. (2018). Digital Human. The fourth revolution of humanity includes everyone, United Kingdom: Wiley

The Central Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia (2019). Innovation Gateway. Retrieved from http://www.nbrm.mk/porta-za-inovacii.nspx

https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephaniemacconnell/2017/10/23/financial-inclusion-do-good-make-money/#661c55f03fc3

Author:

Jani Manasov

An experienced business analyst in the banking sector, leading a team involved in analyzing, defining and implementing solutions in a globally renowned core banking software. Involved in numerous cutting-edge and process automation projects in banking and financial services.

A PhD researcher in the area of fintech and digital transformation in banking at the Faculty of Economics in Skopje. With a keen interest in investigating user preferences towards using fintech services and innovations inspired by the new technologies. Focused on following the latest trends and articles in the fintech area.

A life-long learner and a fintech enthusiast, always looking to improve in all fields, both personal and professional.

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Fintech MK

Fintech MK

First Fintech Community in North Macedonia which aims at developing and enabling the Fintech Ecosystem regionally.