The study examines the current trends in both the Hungarian financial and FinTech markets with projections for the next two to three years. From the findings, the country’s FinTech market still lags behind her peers in the CEE region. The financial sector, regulated entirely by the Hungarian government, faces significant challenges in implementing information technology-related (IT) innovations. More specifically, the banking sector fails to develop game-changing innovations as the country is amongst those with the lowest IT budgetary support in the region – with the dominant player (OTP bank) being the only notable active innovator over time. The situation replicates itself in the insurance sector, capital market, and asset management. The Hungarian National Bank (MNB) regulation that exclusively restricts lending to banks deters FinTech investors targeting borrowers. On a positive note, there is significant growth in online shopping and the use of digital payments due to an increase in smart handheld devices and internet reach. Still, online retail (E-tail) is less than 10% of the entire online retail market, implying the existence of business opportunities for FinTech investors. In the E-commerce market, a higher percentage of people prefer the use of digital payment platforms as opposed to mobile PoS payment with the trend expected to hold in the next three years even as the market grows. Interestingly, over 50% of online shoppers who used mobile PoS or M-commerce, did so only once. Nevertheless, due to the minimal FinTech business opportunities in the economy and substantial capital requirement, edge-cutting innovations will come from established international as opposed to internal players.
Keywords: Fintech, innovation, financial sector, digitalization
Changing client needs are forcing business to develop innovative products and services; as such, the financial sector is no exception. Advancements in the telecommunications industry have forced banks to rethink their strategies – thus, the merge of information technology and the financial sector that is a financial technology (FinTech). Besides, such rapid changes like in mobile technology have resulted in simplicity, immediacy, transparency, autonomy, and personalization, a fundamental transformation element disrupting the retail banking segment. Unique channel integration technologies are allowing businesses to have a more seamless end-to-end experience as well as clients (PWC 2011). In the banking sector, in particular, predictive digital model analytics innovations offer more insight into clients’ behavior while enabling the execution of higher and relevant remedial strategies through digital modes (Deloitte 2020).
The financial sector faces a continuous state of disruption – with numerous technologies, regulatory, and demographic factors across the value chain. These disruption and disintermediation stem from information technology (IT) players keen on upsetting the status quo in the financial industry. As (Sullivan et. al 2020) illustrates, the new entrants target the most profitable segments of the banking industry – such as personal lending, finance management, core banking, and Investment. Near Field Communication (NFC) software capabilities integrating bank accounts and mobile “wallets” are examples of such innovations (Van der Boor 2014). As digital transformation accelerates fast, banks must maintain their reinvention. The dynamism in both fields (IT and finance) keeps creating more business opportunities (Going Digital 2014). In the last ten years, trading systems and digital advisory, machine learning and artificial intelligence, mobile payment systems, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, crowdfunding, and new monetary functionalities with different forms of digital currency like Bitcoin and related crypto assets have emerged. These digital platforms are no more another avenue for businesses to interact with their clients but, instead, represent a significant and continuous way of growing retail business share both regionally and globally.
Dissatisfaction and lack of confidence are some of the main reasons why customers often decide to re-evaluate their relationships with providers of financial services. Where FinTech can guarantee customers higher levels of trust and confidence through better service delivery and other offerings like low fees quick, transparent, and flexible processes, they can leverage on the shortcomings of financial institutions to grow their market share (Spinola et. al 2019). Nevertheless, financial institutions have the option of co-opting the services of FinTech firms in their operations rather than go it alone. Moreover, FinTech is a formidable competitor for financial institutions with their activities cutting across the different segments. (Jünger&Mietzner 2019) Outlines the eight sectors in which FinTech operates, namely loan processing, money transfer, personal finance/asset management, blockchain/cryptocurrency, institutional technology/capital markets, security technology, payment/billing technology, and equity crowdfunding.
Several authors have examined various aspects of FinTech in different economies. The present study evaluates the interaction of FinTech firms and financial institutions in Hungary. More specifically, it seeks to establish how the financial institutions implement innovations in their operations as well as the level of preparedness in adopting change. Furthermore, it outlines the main innovation-related areas that financial institutions can focus on to remain or be competitive. (Henri &Fischer 2019) As for Fintech investors, it explores available opportunities while highlighting factors that can curtail their operations. In the analysis, the study makes substantial reference to other countries in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region, of which Hungary is part. Also, it establishes the impact of information technology innovations on business through digital platforms. The authors define a financial institution as comprising of the banking sector, insurance industry, capital market, brokerage, and asset management segment. The study is motivated by the minimal literature on the subject matter in Hungary and will be an addition to the existing literature.
Hungary is one of the nine economies located in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) besides Austria, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland and, Romania. The size of the FinTech industry across the nine CEE economies is estimated to be under €2.5 billion (Deloitte 2016). A closer analysis shows that Poland dominates the fintech market worth about € 856 million, closely followed by Austria. However, the gap between these two nations and the rest of the economies is significantly huge. For instance, the Czech Republic ranked third has its market value for the industry much lower than even half of either Poland or Austria. Also, even the market value summation of the seven economies is only slightly over half the combined value of both the Polish and Austrian markets. Moreover, Hungary is seventh on the list worth €83 million ahead of both the Slovakian Republic and Bulgaria. Perhaps, one explanation for the disparity between the two sets of markets (two verse seven) is the availability of FinTech business opportunities. Furthermore, there may be a nexus between the economic development of a country and the performance of its FinTech market. (Papp, Horváth, 2019).
When evaluating the FinTech market, the financial industry breaks down to banking, insurance, capital market, and asset management sectors – which all examined in the sections below. These sectors in Hungary are at different levels of maturity or development, and their regulation remains significant. In particular, the Hungarian National Bank (MNB) regulates the operations of all these sectors and, by extension, the entire financial sector in the country. The scenario is somewhat different compared to other economies, where the Central or Federal banks primarily regulate banks plus all deposit-taking institutions, whereas other quasi-government authorities like the capital market or insurance-related institutions, among others, regulate the other segments. While such centralized regulation has its advantages, it also has its fair share of shortcomings owing to the uniqueness of each segment in the financial sector. (Hungarian Nationality Bank 2019)
In Hungary, the top five banks hold 55% of the sector’s total assets and the rest by over twenty banks. Besides, International players dominate the banking sector, that is, KBC (Belgium), UniCredit bank (Italy), Raiffeisen, and ERSTE banks (both from Austria). All the same, the largest bank (OTP) controlling 25% of the market’s assets is Hungarian-owned. The global financial crisis (GFC) had an impact on the country’s banking sector. For instance, due to the crisis, the Hungarian government imposed a bank levy to help reduce the fiscal deficit – gradually lowered with improvements in the economic environment. Moreover, the sector underwent consolidation with the government having a tight grip on the sector through the acquisition of Budapest bank, MKB (2015) banks, and while obtaining a minority share in Erste Bank (15% in 2016) (Novak 2015) (Field 2015)(Erstegroup 2016). These acquisitions allowed the government considerable influence in the banking industry, both as a player and regulator through MNB.
A breakdown of the country’s financial institutions shows that there are 26-commercial banks, 9-foreign bank branches, 5-mortgage banks, 4-building societies, and 3-specialized banks. Moreover, due to massive consolidation, 13 institutions act as credit or saving cooperatives. Besides, the total banked populace is about 75%, but interestingly confidence in the banking institution is less than 30% (Deloitte 2016). The National Bank of Hungary is the primary financial regulatory authority of the sector. Whereas banks seek to innovate, managing non-performing loans (NPLs) remains a challenge. For instance, in 2018, profitability in the banking sector dropped by about 15% as compared to 2017, while before-tax return on equity was unchanged at about 13.4%. One reason attributable to the lower profitability is a moderating rate associated with impairments (Efama 2020). In 2013, over 130 institutions were acting as savings banks. However, in 2015, there was a significant change as the number reduced drastically. In 2015 alone, 42 institutions closed, and this relates to government actions that significantly altered the players in the industry. While the government acquired some players in the market, others merged or left the market altogether, as such between 2015 and 2017, 102 banking institutions left the market, an average of about 30 players annually. Overbanking is one probable explanation as to why the MNB took such drastic actions and also super confidence that was so low. (Hungarian Nationality Bank 2019)
The insurance sector in the country is reasonably concentrated and controlled by foreign firms. The trend is attributable to the country’s accession to the European Union (EU) in 2004. Just like the banking industry, the accession allowed international insurance players to enter the Hungarian market. While the top five insurance firms control about 50% of the sector’s gross premium, such a share is slowly decreasing as small players strengthen their operations (Statista 2020). Also, the Hungarian National Bank controls the insurance sector, just like the banking industry – in short, there are considerable similarities between the banking and insurance industries.
Five investment fund firms hold over 70% of the sector’s total assets – being owned by brokerage firms and commercial banks. Besides, the country’s investment fund market is relatively small, resulting from low levels of disposable income and associated low propensity to save. Nevertheless, total sector net assets continue to register an annual growth of over 10% (Efama 2020). Figure 1 shows the total value of financial assets of investment funds in the country as at the end of 2018, based on asset type. In summary, the total value of deposits and currency owned by investment funds stands at approximately HUF 1.4 trillion. Also, the total financial assets in the form of equity and investment fund shares amounted to about 2 trillion Hungarian forints in the same year. The most preferred assets are debt securities, equity & investment fund shares, and currency & deposits in that order. There is minimal interest in other accounts receivables or loans segments.
The Budapest Stock Exchange or Budapest Értéktőzsde (BÉT)) is the second-largest capital market in Central and Eastern Europe based on liquidity and market capitalization (JLL 2019). The listing at the stock exchange depends on the size of a firm – the premium market for the bigger and established companies, whereas the standard segment, targets smaller companies. Besides, Interventions by the financial regulators and Budapest Stock Exchange have allowed the country’s capital markets to take a critical role in attracting domestic innovators as well as foreign investors. There are 64 listed companies at the bourse; however, the market is still illiquid with daily trading of fewer than 40 euros million (Deloitte 2016). Figure 2 represents the performance of the Hungarian stock market for over ten years. From 2012 and 2015, the stock market index oscillated between 15000 and 20000. However, from 2015 the index has been on a steady upward trajectory.
The country’s brokerage industry has suffered a confidence crisis in the past, attributed to the default by two significant players (Quaestor and Buda-Cash) over allegations of frauds. Nevertheless, the Hungarian National Bank (MNB) adopted remedial steps aimed at reversing the trend.
Fintechs are all over the globe, but the best performing hubs are San Francisco, New York, Dublin, Stockholm, Singapore, Hong Kong finally, Sidney (Deloitte 2016).
Technology is the new order in the financial sector, and no country can afford to be left behind. Indeed, the most successful start-ups are those combining both technology and financial services. Nevertheless, Hungary still plays catch up to her peers in Central and Eastern Europe. As at the end of 2019, the country had about 773 start-ups; however, of these, only 70 were fintech start-ups (Tracxn 2019). Shown below are some notable Fintech companies in the country, and three main categories focus on payment platforms, banking, and insurance sectors.
In the banking sector, it is evident that some top banks in the country are taking a leading role in developing IT-related innovations. Besides, the same financial institutions and others not on the list above enlist the services of independent Fintech companies such as Dorsum, W.Up, BSCE, among others, to develop IT-related financial solutions. A similar scenario is evident in the insurance sector, where still some industry players, such as Allianz, partner with or contract external firms to work on their IT solutions separately. However, in the payment segment, independent firms (fintech) develop innovative solutions that can then be utilized at a cost by any willing business.
Hungary lags behind her peer on matters financial innovation; as a result, in November 2019, the National Bank of Hungary was among the first central banks in the CEE region to publish a new Fintech Strategy. MNB appreciated that a Fintech disconnect destabilizes the financial market. Still, the regulator recognizes the merits that Fintech innovation has on other financial sectors, like capital market products, insurance services (InsurTech), and asset management solutions. As such, the four main objectives of the MNB’s Fintech Strategy include: increase the competitiveness of financial services, improve the effectiveness and stability of the financial system, supporting an advanced and active Fintech ecosystem finally; develop financial awareness and professional education (Papp, Horváth, 2019).
The Digital Payment segment’s total transaction value amounted to 3302 million euros (US$3,669 million) in early 2020. For the period 2020-2023, projections show an annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.9%, resulting in a total value of 4262 million euros (US$4,743 million) by 2023. Based on figure 3 below, there are two sections for the transaction value (2017-2019) and the transaction value growth, 2020-2023. Besides, there are two digital platforms, namely Mobile PoS payments and Digital commerce. The market’s most significant segment is Digital Commerce, with a sum transaction value of about 3172 million euros (US$3,525 million) as of early 2020. The growth has been steady over the years. On the contrary, transactions over mobile platforms are minimal with a lower growth rate, whereas the projected future growth shows no positive prospects in the country (Statista 2020).
Figure 4 depicts the usage of digital payment platforms in the country; just like the previous section, the figure has two main components; current usage and projected penetration. Digital commerce has both a higher number of current users and a projected penetration rate in the next three years – which supports the voluminous (digital commerce) transaction observed above. Similarly, the low mobile payment transactions observed in the previous section lay credence to the low number of people using mobile and hand-held devices to make payments. Moreover, for both digital commerce and mobile PoS payments, the projected growth in the number of users may not change significantly. Nevertheless, the trend may change as more people in the country continue to acquire smartphones or handheld devices with multiple functionalities.
Still, average transaction per user is higher for digital commerce compared to mobile PoS payments, but the year 2023 – the average transaction per user for both mobile and digital platforms will be the same, which is 511 euros (US$ 611.6); figure 5 illustrates the situation.
Finally, mature economies had adopted a cashless payment system based mainly on credit cards for such a long time, but in recent years, technological innovations in the financial sector have called for a paradigm shift. Of interest is that the so-called „Western” countries are even much slower in implementing new payment innovations than emerging economies like India, Eastern Europe, or China. Moreover, a higher proportion of the population in some emerging economies of Africa, Latin America, and Asia had been underbanked for so long until the emergence of wallet innovations and mobile payments that depend entirely on accessible mobile technology (Statista 2020). Such innovation is in the Hungarian market after some banks came together and partnered with providers of IT solutions to develop such an e-wallet application.
The largest bank in the country remains the leading innovator, whereas other industry players are lagging technology-wise. That is OTP, the biggest bank in Hungary developed OTPdirekt Smart Bank, a banking application that allows the mobile management of payments, cards, deposits, transfers, mobile phone top-ups, and visualization of account balances. Besides, it had implemented an end-to-end m-payment solution in partnership with MasterCard. However, recently, partnered with ACI Worldwide’s universal payments portfolio of solutions to overhaul its digital operations. On the same note, Erste Bank equally entered a contract also with ACI Worldwide to revamp its PayTech suite (Hamilton 2020). The partnership by the two banks with ACI Worldwide is hardly two years. The banking industry will grow in the years to come due to such cutting-edge innovations. On the contrary, the other banks have been slow in implementing innovative solutions for their operations or customers, partly to cost implications. Information Technology solutions are primarily delivered by established, large international vendors (Deloitte 2016).
Most banks in the country depend on large vendors for Information Technology solutions. As demonstrated above, only two of the top five banks in the country recently signed contracts with ACI Worldwide to develop their IT solutions. All the same, some of the most significant IT vendors for banks in Hungary include the British Misys, providing a broad range of banking IT solutions, from digital channel management, through commercial lending, transaction banking to risk management, treasury, compliance to transaction banking and treasury. Other primary providers are EQL Soft (OTP bank), the Polish Asseco, and Dorsum (the Hungarian National Bank and BSCE (specializing in transfer pricing, risk management, and data mining (Deloitte 2016) (Hamilton 2020). The growing need for information technology innovations in the financial sector in the country is due to considerable business opportunities in digitalizing branches. Still, for some time, Internet transactions have been dominant, growing mobile-only-customers, while society now open to new banking solutions. Innovations that digitize personal sales enhance paperless transactions or support financial advisory using digital tools are a must for any bank to remain competitive in the Hungarian market.
Most Hungarian banks have experienced a decline, stagnation, or at best marginal growth in profitability over the last couple of years. However, from 2017, the industry has registered a two-digit combined after-tax profit growth (Hungarian Nationaly Bank 2019). Apart from improved economic conditions, improved performance is attributable to reforms in the management of debt financing, minimizing risk, and proper understanding of the customer needs (The Economist 2020). The performance is never the same across all banks, and one of the distinguishing factors is the level of investment in technology. Such investments allow banks to refocus on customer acquisition, market share, and satisfying clients’ needs – areas where banks need to keep reinventing themselves. (Henri & Fischer 2019) Two key barriers continue to face the Hungarian banking industry or rather the sector players, as explained next.
A few years back, Hungarian banks were either under-investing or unwilling to upgrade their IT innovations based on global industry dynamics. Notably, OTP bank, the most prominent institution in the country, remains a leader in implement innovations. Whereas other local banks also invest in information technology, they tend to play catch up. The under-investment by most of these banks in IT is not a surprise at all. For instance, in Central and Eastern Europe, Hungary is among countries whose banks have the lowest IT budget in the region, making it difficult to implement programs that genuinely support innovation. Such budgeting limitations, if not addressed adequately, have adverse effects on performance. (Nagy et. al 2018) (Hungarian Nationality Bank 2019)
Furthermore, mobile and internet banking penetration remains low, despite regional and global trends (Deloitte 2016). Figure 6 below shows the current smartphone user penetration rate in Hungary from 2015 to date. It projects that by 2022, active smartphone users will hit 62.08% of the total population. However, whereas active users of smart handheld devices are over 60%, less than 45% of people used the internet for online banking – partly to mobile internet usage (Statista 2020). The difference between the two groups could be a potential business opportunity yet to exploit fully. Besides, future growth in those who acquire smartphones may create more market.
The insurance industry is still fledging and still not fully digitalized, although telematics is in use. Insurance firms prefer allocating IT budgets are to solutions offered by large vendors. In any case, these firms underfund their IT operations, too, just like in the banking sector. Allianz Hungária, a significant player, is one firm that keeps updating its IT solutions as the rest lag behind. However, there are many advantages associated with Fintech in the sector. For example, more than 50% of prospective policyholders analyze and compare offers by different insurance firms online, while 39% of the customers purchase policies through the internet (Nagy et. al 2018). Firms that would choose to perform continuous market research while bolstering their innovation-related budgets may reap in the long-term. In any case, the capital market and asset management are not very strong innovators. For example, no significant developments have taken place since the crisis of 2007. Also, until recently, there were no classical online wealth management providers – such services come from brokerage houses and banks only (Deloitte 2016); all these are areas where if well addressed, can be a source of competitive advantage or business opportunity.
Besides, whereas there are several options trading and forex exchange platforms, the provision of innovative solutions is minimal. Recently, a few companies providing portfolio management, analytics, or any other related service entered the country. Still, capital markets and asset management sectors do not offer a significant business opportunity for potential FinTech entrants – this is due to limitations in trading activities on Hungarian stock exchange as well as low literacy levels on financial matters in the country. However, financial and fintech should prepare for growth in business opportunities in the days to come. The online wealth management field will develop with the growth in savings per capita. Also, with no direct limitations concerning many investment products, client education may create a more in-depth market. One other key opportunity is in the use of contactless smart cards to perform transactions. The available data, as shown in figure 7, illustrates that initially –Cash payment dominated the Hungarian payment landscape. In particular, the growth in the use of contactless smart cards for transactions has averaged about 1%, apart from 2011. (Euromonitor 2019).
By nature, the customers are sensitive to any form of levy. In Hungary, for instance, the government introduced a tax on electronic transactions in 2013 to alleviate budget deficit, although there was a review in the subsequent years. In return, most banks passed the cost to their clients, which resulted in some having a change in their attitude to banks while others reviewed their relationships altogether. The move partially explains why most account holders had a confidence problem with financial institutions. For example, after the introduction of the government levy, 300,000 non-primary accounts were shut down in protest and for fear of being levied more charges (Euromonitor 2019)]. Nevertheless, the trend has changed in recent times based on available recent statistics. Still, there has been a gradual shift in the use of cash for transaction purposes, as figure 8 demonstrate, 51% of the people prefer a non-cash form of payment, 19% pay using cash, whereas 30% prefer the use of both forms of payment (Euromonitor 2019).
The total share of the E-tail segment within the entire retail sector in Hungary is at less than 10%. E-commerce, as highlighted earlier, is growing in the country. For instance, in 2017, the total e-commerce volume in the country hit 1.65 billion euros (approximately 545 billion Hungarian forints). In 2016, the figure stood at 1.4 billion euros while at 1.02 billion euros in 2015. Opportunities abound for e-commerce in the retail segment. For example, in 2013, it accounted for 3.1%, 4.1%, and 6.2% of total retail sales in 2013, 2015, and 2017 respectively. As such, the volume of e-commerce in the retail segment keeps growing annually. Besides, about 5.4 million people in the country shopped online at least once in 2019 (Euromonitor 2019)]. In short, 91% of adult internet users in the country made an online purchase in that year alone. Based on such facts, business opportunities exist for financial institutions and fintech investors.
Finally, from 2014 to 2018, the country’s (E-tail) online retail market grew by more than 150%; the net turnover of webshops grew from 0.8 billion euros (HUF 273 billion) in 2014 to 2.1 billion euros (HUF 669 billion) in 2018. Also, E-traders did well in 2018, too, as the country’s online retail trade volume increased by 23%. However, any future expansion of the country’s e-tail sector will depend on the intensity of purchases instead of the growing number of new online shoppers. Products categories resulting in the highest online turnover include clothing & software, information technology, entertainment/electronics (Euromonitor 2019). On the flip side, the growing intensity of purchases from non-domestic webshops presents a considerable challenge to the country’s economy since such transactions are not beneficial to the economy. Still, the slow but stable growth in mobile commerce (m-commerce), as well as the more dynamic development of the electronic commerce (e-commerce market), are essential elements in shaping the future of payments in Hungary(Euromonitor 2019)].
The Hungarian FinTech industry is still developing while few banks engage in game-changing information technology innovations. The country is not fairing so well compared to other CEE member states as its FInTech market is ranked a distant seventh overall. There is a significant portion of the populace that prefers the use of cash in settling transactions. That is, despite several mobile payment platforms that exist like MobilTárca, PayU, Cellum, among others, an indication that the expected impact by spreading to critical mass is low. The Hungarian market is still open to digitization, demonstrated by high usage of social media and the rate of Internet penetration, respectively. It is not far-fetched, assuming that the people in the country are willing to accept more innovative solutions. Financial institutions (banks and insurance firms) must address must low budget allocations to IT or innovations as compared to other CEE member states.
Moreover, the market is insufficient for local companies to allocate substantial financial resources to innovation. As a result, anticipated new solutions will most likely originate from international companies with profitable business models. International firms have economies of scale advantages, minimizing their exposure to risk – also, the MNB regulation, where banks have exclusive lending rights deters FinTech investors targeting borrowers (lending market). Such regulations imply that these companies will not enter the Hungarian market soon; this is regardless of the population becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities associated with FinTech innovations. However, most industry players continue to undervalue the opportunities for an innovative culture.
The right technology and related innovations offer a significant competitive advantage or be an excellent barrier. For instance, in the Hungarian insurance market, nine out of ten persons select insurance providers primarily on price alone – a state achievable by implementing the latest IT solutions. The minimal innovation in the capital and asset market has mainly is linked to the developing nature of the Budapest stock exchange, but this contradicts positioning compared to similar markets in the CEE region. Moreover, a low knowledge level among wealthier persons about advanced saving options has had a negative impact. Relevant institutions must act fast since such factors act as a deterrent to edge-cutting innovations by existing players or would-be potential entrants.
Lastly, there is notable growth in electronic payments, but the government needs to evaluate the impact of any planned levies or taxes and limits since they impact payment behavior. The country has about 5.5 million online shoppers who tend to use digital payment platforms. Interestingly, only 50% of online shoppers who used M-payment or M-commerce did not use the platform again; the underlying reason must be established for the sector to flourish. What is more, the online retail segment (E-tail) is a tenth of the entire retail market. The segment is, therefore, still developing or underexploited and offers further investment opportunities.
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