A Year In Review: 2020

“2020 was a challenging year for companies of all sizes. Despite the pandemic and all its implications, the digital finance sector marked an incredible increase all over the world. The effects in emerging markets such as Bulgaria were even greater – digital finance increased its share tremendously and can now be easily recognized as one of the most important drivers to boost the productivity of our economy. Thus, 2020 brought many opportunities to introduce Bulgaria as a thriving Fintech destination” – the Chairman of the Bulgarian Fintech Association Valeri Valtchev. 

In the article below we analyze the Association’s most significant 2020 achievements and show the progress of the Bulgarian Fintech sector.

Events

2020 started very promising with BFA hosting a meet-up with our Romanian peers from the Romanian Fintech Association and an educational event in the province of Bulgaria. Then, with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all physical events were either postponed or canceled and the BFA team rearranged its strategy accordingly and moved “all-digital”. In these difficult times, BFA extended a helping hand towards its members and provided them with numerous opportunities for live online events. In total, 13 online webinars presenting Bulgarian Fintech products and services were initiated, including events giving Bulgarian Fintechs the opportunity to pitch in front of Abu Dhabi Global Markets, Dubai International Financial Centre, and Romanian Fintech Association. Several online events with the European Commission (EC) in regard to the creation of the very first Digital Finance Strategy for the EU were organized, as well as a 7-hour public consultation, supported by the EC and the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Bulgaria. The very last virtual event of 2020 was the Release of the Annual Fintech Report 2020, once again supported by the public and private sector, namely the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Bulgaria, EC, European Digital Finance Association (EDFA), and private entities such as Mastercard, Bulgarian-American Credit Bank, Paynetics, Klear, Iuvo and Credissimo.

In brief, when it comes to organizing events, 2020 and the pandemic made BFA more efficient, encouraged the Association to reach its audience via new means and thus made us even more focused on our goal – to further develop the Bulgarian Fintech sector.

Initiatives

Fintech Master’s degree program

In October, the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration (FEBA) at the Sofia University in collaboration with BFA launched the first Fintech Master’s degree program in Bulgaria called Finance and Investments. The program received great interest and with 42 enrolled students, it became the most popular Master’s program at FEBA. A 30-hour course in Fintech and e-banking, part of the program, was supplemented by 20 lectures led by companies from the private sector among which Unicredit Bulbank, Paynetics, Credissimo, iRoboInvest, etc. The course finishes with a group project: business plans, which will be presented during a Fintech hackathon in February when the best ideas will receive a chance to be developed further with the help of mentors and professionals. 

Overall, the Masters’ degree program was well-liked, as demonstrated by students’ feedback, and will be continued in the next academic year, with an even bigger share for Fintech education. The Fintech and e-banking course would increase from 30 to 45 hours and another course related to Blockchain and cryptocurrency would be added to the program.

Release of the First Sofia and Bulgaria Fintech Mappings

Another collaboration between BFA and the public sector has taken place this year. In collaboration with Innovative Sofia, BFA released the very first Sofia Fintech Mapping, followed by a Bulgaria Fintech Mapping. Both mappings have marked all Fintech key stakeholders among which the 100+ Fintechs operating from Bulgaria, the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the supporting organizations, etc.

The initiative received high interest from both local and international Fintech enthusiasts. Next year we plan an even more elaborate and full mapping, so stay tuned!

Annual Fintech Report 2020

For a second consecutive year, BFA issued an Annual Fintech Report, released on a conference supported by the European Commission, the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Bulgaria, and the European Digital Finance Association. The aim of the research, which was conducted in cooperation with SEE News, is to provide extensive information about each of the elements of the industry – from an overview of the Fintech ecosystem, through market analysis of the companies, to the regulatory landscape in Bulgaria, the investments in Fintechs and the place of the Bulgarian Fintech in the region of South East Europe. The Report’s main objective is to raise public awareness about the sector and its most remarkable innovations and achievements by providing an in-depth analysis of the Fintech landscape in Bulgaria.

The Annual Fintech Report placed Bulgaria as one of the leading Fintech hubs in the region of South East Europe and elaborated on the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities of the sector. Next year’s version will provide even deeper and more complex research in help to all Fintech key stakeholders.

Regulatory actions

2020 was an active year for Fintech regulatory initiatives. As part of our efforts to further develop the Fintech field in Bulgaria and the region, BFA represented the sector in 8 different public consultations and formally expressed the opinion of our sector in front of respective regulatory authorities on both national and supranational level. In specific, BFA participated actively in creating the National Strategy for SME and Financial Literacy with the Ministries of Economy and Finance of the Republic of Bulgaria, post COVID-19 measures together with EDFA, Law for payment services and systems with Bulgarian National Bank, etc.

BFA also participated in the Digital Finance Outreach, initiated by the European Commission. In June 2020, BFA organized the 2nd most-attended public consultation in Europe. During the event, more than 15 representatives of the Bulgarian Fintech sector consolidated over 5 key priorities for the Digital Finance Strategy for the EU. Later, we were glad to see that all 5 Bulgarian priorities were embraced by the European Commission and applied in the Digital Finance Strategy for the EU.

In 2021 BFA will continue its efforts and commitment to represent the sector before regulators and expresses its readiness to work with respective authorities on all levels.

New Members

Despite the pandemic and all its drawbacks, BFA continued to expand. In 2020 we increased our membership numbers by 12, accumulating 45 Fintech organizations members. Companies from 5 different Fintech segments joined us. These are: Payments – Iris Solutions, Easy Payment Services, Wallex Custody, Vendofin; Regtech – Notolytix; Lending – Assetify, Creditex, Spenduble; IT Support for Fintech – Devexperts, BG Web; Blockchain/Crypto – Global Xchange; Insurance – iPort.

In 2021, we continue our efforts to foster the partnership between Fintechs in the region and thus we are open to all Fintech related organizations to join our member list.

Partnerships with organizations around the globe

The physical distancing limitations did not stop BFA partnerships; in contrary, in 2020 we managed to reach out to markets which we have never reached before. We had several events with organizations from the United Arabic Emirates which provided Bulgarian Fintechs to pitch in from of Abu Dhabi Global Market on the Dubai Fintech Festival 2020 as well as before interested parties of the Dubai International Financial Centre.

Our efforts were also oriented towards the development of Bulgarian Fintechs in Europe. In February 2020, together with 12 other European Fintech associations, we co-founded the European Digital Finance Association (EDFA). A place for BFA in EDFA provides the Bulgarian Fintechs with a say at the European Parliament level.  

During the year we also signed several Memorandums of Understanding with organizations from around the world such as the Ukrainian Association of Fintech and Innovation Companies, FintechGuardian and met with several Western Balkans innovation associations. A partnership with Findexable and the European Cluster Collaboration Platform put the Bulgarian Fintech sector respectively on the global and European maps.

Increasing the awareness on Fintech in Bulgaria

Apart from the 20+ webinars and virtual events in which BFA took part and organized over the year, our efforts to increase the awareness of Bulgarian Fintech have been extended to many media appearances. We have been quoted and mentioned more than a dozen times in European media and featured several times in Fintech relevant magazines and websites such as Paypers, TrendingTopics, Forbes Bulgaria, etc. In 2020, our representatives gave interviews and discussed Fintech-related trends and news in the emission of BloombergTV Bulgaria.

Next year we will maintain the interest in Bulgarian Fintech and try to attract even greater interest in our matters by organizing Fintech-related webinars, hackathons and conferences.

Concluding words for 2020

“The year 2020 was an interesting year for the Bulgarian Fintech sector. It brought countless tests for businesses’ sustainability and proved once again the leading role of emerging markets for Fintech development globally. As Morgan Freeman recently said, we hope 2021 will be better, or at least it is going to be hard not to be. In that sense, BFA will expand its activities in all possible directions in order to bring the Bulgarian Fintech sector together” – Valeri Valtchev, Chairman of the Bulgarian Fintech Association.