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Vira Platonova, Senior Vice President and Group Country Manager for Visa Ukraine, Georgia, CIS and SEE States

October 2022

 

6 - 7 Minutes

Destination Digital: From Southeast Europe to Central Asia, the Rapid Innovation Driving Growth

Across the region that stretches from Central Asia through the Caucasus, Ukraine, to Southeast Europe, formed by 17 markets, innovations in digital payments underpin prospects for growth. From tokenization and wallets, to fintechs, e-government services and urban mobility we explore the key developments that are shaping the region’s future – including Visa’s partnerships in Ukraine, with insights from Vira Platonova, Senior Vice President and Group Country Manager for Visa Ukraine, Georgia, CIS and SEE states.

Around the world, the challenges faced during the pandemic led to a digital payments and ecommerce boom, with businesses turning themselves into a testing ground for rapid innovation to adapt to dramatic changes in consumers’ behaviour This has been manifesting in country-specific ways, in a very diverse and unique region with more than 160 million population, but the headline trend remains consistent. As Vira Platonova, Senior Vice President and Group Country Manager for Visa, explains: “The COVID-19 pandemic became a catalyst for digitalization and the “techceleration” of the economy. Changes that would normally take several years have happened much faster – in a few months.”

Key trends for businesses to mark include the digital acceleration, with more than half of consumers expecting to shift their reliance on digital payments in 2022; the challenge of abandoned carts – where consumers will quickly give up on a purchase if a familiar, reliable payment method is not available; and their embrace of the global marketplace, as small businesses look to reach more consumers online.1 The SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) sector is ready to adapt: 50% of small businesses planned to increase cross-border sales in 2022.2 In turn, financial institutions and banks are more open to support SMEs more than ever before, contributing to 90 percent of SMEs feeling optimistic about their future.3

There is more still to be achieved: with the advances in digital payments and changes to consumers’ digital habits, Visa is more focused than ever on supporting financial literacy promoting financial inclusion.

Trends Across the Region

In this region, these trends are playing out across its 17 countries, where the combined population of around 160 million has rapidly embraced new technologies. As ecommerce has boomed, there has been a rise in Card-Not-Present (CNP) payments, which in Central Asia have grown their market share by 23 percentage points in two years.4

Separately, there has been a significant rise in tokenization, where a customer’s card number is replaced with a 16-digit equivalent, or token, to secure digital payments; this grew by 1.8 times in the last two years.5 This shift was spurred on by new methods of payments using digital wallets and gadgets that entered the market.

Against this background, overall payments volumes have been on the rise: growing 2.3 times in Central Asia in the last two years.6 To break down that headline figure, Face-To-Face (F2F) domestic payments doubled over that period, with supermarkets, restaurants, clothes, car dealers and service stations experiencing the highest levels of this type of spending. Meanwhile, as consumers moved increasingly online, Card-Not-Present payments grew by 5.6 times, concentrated on professional services, regional transport, airlines and cash services.7 As for Person-to-Person (P2P) payments, volumes have grown by 6.2 times – with Kazakhstan again leading this, contributing 99.6 per cent of this rise.8

Taking Ukraine’s PrivatBank to the cloud

PayPal has been just one of Visa’s crucial projects in Ukraine. As the war unfolded this year, Visa collaborated with leading Ukrainian bank PrivatBank to implement a new way to securely connect it to the VisaNet payments network, eliminating its dependency on telecommunications infrastructure at risk of destruction during the Russian invasion.

This was achieved through PrivatBank migrating to the Visa Cloud Connect platform, a cloud-based infrastructure designed to help banks and partners with existing cloud-based processing infrastructures connect to Visa to process transactions, including non-Visa transactions. The migration meant the team at PrivatBank, which serves 19.6 million customers, were able to move all of its operations to the cloud – thereby limiting its dependence on hardware located across Ukraine.

PrivatBank was able to keep providing customers with access to its financial services, which it called “a matter of national security”, helping to ensure the smooth operation of Ukraine’s payment infrastructure.

This collaboration marked the first time Visa has enabled secure connectivity from a public cloud-based processing environment in the broader Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (СЕМЕА) region since the platform became available in late 2021. “We are proud that the first launch of Visa Cloud Connect in CEMEA has been implemented for one of Visa’s key Ukrainian client-banks, PrivatBank. This migration became extremely important for the country,” says Vira Platonova.

Looking to the future, further developments in the region are supported by key payments trends. The continuing growth of fintechs create the opportunity for cooperating in new, fruitful ways. Governments are embracing localization as a strategy, which offers those in the payments sector an opportunity to serve markets by ever more tailored routes. Digital wallets are evolving to become ‘Super Apps’ which wrap up a wide variety of services – and Visa is an integral part of this world already. Visa has also facilitated the rapid adoption of accessible acquiring tools among SMEs through collaborations with more than 18 financial institutions that have launched Visa Tap to Phone applications in countries, such as Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, Serbia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Armenia.

Above all, Visa’s ‘ecosystem’ approach to financial and payments services allows banks and their partners to cooperate effectively, which can bring major benefits – as illustrated by recent projects in Ukraine.

Spotlight on Ukraine: Partnering with PayPal

Any consideration of developments in the region must acknowledge the major impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on all aspects of life. At the beginning of March 2022, Visa suspended all of its business operations in Russia, in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. In that same month, PayPal entered the Ukrainian market in March 2022, with Visa taking part in the launch.

The goal was to enable people to send financial help to Ukrainians from abroad, as well as to support money transfers within war-torn families when some members were forced to leave Ukraine – and to provide this key support as soon as possible. To that end, the aim was to enable people to freely transfer money from PayPal to cards issued by Ukrainian banks - which is where Visa came in.

The groundwork here had already begun; after Visa and PayPal agreed a strategic partnership in 2016, they started working on the seamless transfer of funds using Visa Direct – the transfer service which acts as a bridge between all Visa partner banks. If this project was expanded to Ukraine, money from a PayPal account in Singapore, for instance, could be securely transferred to a Ukrainian card.

To achieve this, Visa teams in the U.S., Singapore and Europe, as well as Visa’s Ukrainian office, worked around the clock, agreeing on the project’s structure and implementing it – a process that normally would take months – in just two weeks.8  PayPal successfully launched in Ukraine, and is now proving a much-needed service to Ukraine.

Visa is also focusing on the dynamic development of contactless payments in transit. Visa continues to facilitate them in Ukraine, and only a week ago, in addition to contactless payment available in Kyiv’s metro, chip and pin payments by cards and gadgets have been introduced in all on-the-ground city public transport, including on buses and trams.

The Future is Collaborative

Visa’s work with its partners in Ukraine illustrates just how the payments industry has embraced rapid transformation. Together, financial institutions can break down barriers to keep evolving payments, providing accessible, integrated and seamless financial services where they are needed. As a provider of payment solutions and technologies for businesses and consumers, as well as a contributor itself to the development of this new digital infrastructure, Visa believes that working with all key stakeholders in each market will help to further advance digital payments – with benefits for all.

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All brand names, logos and/or trademarks are the property of their respective owners, are used for identification purposes only, and do not necessarily imply product endorsement or affiliation with Visa.

1Visa Back to Business Global Study: 2022 Small Business Outlook (https://usa.visa.com/dam/VCOM/blogs/visa-back-to-business-study-2022-outlook-jan22.pdf)
2Visa Back to Business, as above
3Visa Back to Business, as above
4 Visa Key Market Observations, as above, Volumes in Central Asia from FY2020 – FY2022
5Visa Key Market Observations in Central Asia and Belarus: penetration and opportunity
6Visa Key Market Observations, as above, Volume of payments in Central Asia from FY2020 – FY2022
7Visa Key Market Observations, as above, In trading terminals in Central Asia from FY2020 – FY2022
8Visa Key Market Observations, as above, Volumes in Central Asia from FY2020 – FY2022
9"We haven’t slept for two weeks," how Visa helped launch PayPal in Ukraine (Ain.ua article written in Ukrainian) https://ain.ua/2022/03/29/yak-zapuskaly-paypal-v-ukrayini-visa/

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