Why Poland is leading Central Europe’s digital transformation

Why Poland is leading Central Europe’s digital transformation

Poland’s economy has made remarkable progress over a relatively short period. The European nation’s GDP reached $1.39 trillion in 2023, climbing 40 per cent in the 20 years since it joined the European Union (EU). This rise has made the country the sixth largest economy in Europe

Poland has seen significant advancements in technology adoption, education and infrastructure development. Poles are increasingly embracing digital technology, with a surge of online banking, e-commerce and mobile payments. An influx of skilled workers from neighbouring countries has further fueled economic growth, making Poland a dynamic and forward-looking economy.

Poland’s outlook remains positive despite an slowdown in 2023 due to high inflation, elevated interest rates, and the ongoing impact of the War in Ukraine. GDP growth is projected to reach 2.8 per cent in 2024 and 3.4 per cent in 2025. Unemployment is historically low; and, consumer spending, increasing wages and receding inflation are primary growth drivers. These factors create new business opportunities, strengthen Poland’s trade links with international markets, and provide promising economic prospects for domestic companies. 

In this article, we’ll examine:

  • Overview of Poland’s economy
  • Mobile payments and BLIK
  • The growth of online banking
  • Digital payments with BLIK and Przelewy24
  • Digital wallets.
  • Remittances and cross-border payments
  • Expanding e-commerce

Overview of Poland’s economy

Poland, also known as the ‘Tiger of Europe,’ is one of Europe’s leading economies and one the largest in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Home to over 40 million people, the country’s main sectors include: automotive, aerospace, information technology hardware and software, food products, transportation, pharmaceuticals, paper production and machine manufacturing.

Poland has established itself as a significant technology and financial services service hub for much of Europe. Many banks and tech companies have large operational hubs in the country. Case in point: major financial institutions like Citibank, Credit Suisse and UBS all have significant service centers in Poland. Tech giants like Google, IBM and Microsoft also maintain substantial operations in the country, leveraging Poland’s skilled labour force and strategic location.

According to a report by the Association of Business Service Leaders (ABSL), Poland is one of the leading locations for business services in Europe. The country hosts over 1,500 business service centers, employing more than 355,000 people. These centers provide a wide range of services, including IT, finance, human resources and customer support to clients across Europe and beyond.

Fueled primarily by e-commerce, mobile payments and online banking technology spend, Poland’s digital economy is expected to reach $87 billion in 2025, and $133 billion by 2030.

Key payment trends in Poland

Efforts from the Polish government to digitally transform its infrastructure have accelerated digital payment adoption. These efforts include government policies like the Cashless Poland (Polska Bezgotówkowa) initiative, aimed at reducing cash usage, as well as the Polish Financial Supervision Authority (KNF), which is promoting regulatory frameworks to facilitate fintech growth and digital banking advancements. 

As we explore key payment trends, we’ll delve into specific aspects such as, the growth of online banking, BLIK, digital payments, digital wallets, remittances and the expanding e-commerce sector. Each of these components plays a crucial role in shaping Poland’s dynamic digital payment ecosystem and driving economic growth.

1 -The growth of online banking

Over the last decade, Poland has made tremendous strides in digitising its financial infrastructure, closing the digital gap with the rest of Europe while rapidly advancing into digital banking. 

The range of services available for online banking customers is also expanding. Fintechs are collaborating with established banks to offer comprehensive services, budgeting tools, automated accounting and digital payments. This collaboration has led to more integrated and user-friendly and convenient banking experiences, and has accelerated financial inclusion.

Online banking has seen substantial growth, with total banking IT expenditure rising 12.4% in 2023. This uptake is largely driven by new digital transformation and cybersecurity requirements. Contributing to this growth is the increasing penetration of mobile banking apps and contactless payments, with over 81 per cent of Poles now using online banking

2 – BLIK – Powering real-time mobile payments

BLIK is Poland’s pioneering mobile payment system, introduced in 2015 through a collaboration of six local banks. BLIK enables users to conduct a variety of transactions securely and effortlessly. These transactions include e-commerce payments, point-of-sale (POS) transactions and peer-to-peer transfers. By generating unique, time-sensitive codes for each transaction, BLIK ensures a high level of security. With over 16 million regular users and nearly 1.8 billion transactions completed in 2022 alone, BLIK dominates the Polish mobile payment market, accounting for 53% of all transactions

BLIK has become a cornerstone of Poland’s digital payment landscape, significantly contributing to the country’s rapid fintech growth and increasing the accessibility and convenience of mobile payments for consumers and businesses alike.

BLIK’s growth ties into key payment trends:

  • The digital payments market is expected to more than double from 2022 to 2026.
  • The e-commerce market is expected to rise 40 per cent to $31 billion by 2027. 
  • The number of fintech companies in Poland now stands at 417, up 39 per cent from two years ago.

Despite growth in these areas, some challenges remain. Just 77 per cent of Poles shop online compared with the EU average of over 90 per cent. Additionally, Poland has also been slow to roll out 5G, and local companies have lagged behind their neighbours in adopting newer digital technologies like cloud, big data and AI. This indicates areas where further development could bolster Poland’s digital ecosystem, enhancing the impact of innovations like BLIK.

3 – Digital payments with BLIK and Przelewy24

Though cash transactions remain prevalent in Poland, usage has steadily declined over the last decade. Currently, cash transactions account for under 40 per cent of transactions, primarily for low value, daily purchases. From 2016 to 2021, the number of cashless transactions more than doubled, rising from 3 billion to 7 billion a year.

The Cashless Poland initiative (Polska Bezgotówkowa), aimed at reducing cash transactions, has played a crucial role in this transformation. Launched to support businesses in adopting cashless payment solutions, it provides financial incentives and resources for installing POS terminals, contributing significantly to the rise in cashless transactions. Additionally, the Polish government have also launched an app, mObywatel, that enables citizens to access a wide range of public services and information, conveniently from their smartphones. mObywatel can be also connected to via Polish banking apps.

Mobile payments are also emerging as a strong alternative to cash, particularly through BLIK. With half a billion transactions worth $16 billion every quarter, BLIK has become the preferred digital payment solution for Polish consumers and is seeking to expand into Romania and Slovakia.

Alongside BLIK, Przelewy24 is another major player in Poland’s digital payments arena. This online platform operates with over 165 banks to offer various payment options, including bank transfers, credit and debit cards, text message payments, and BLIK itself. The increasing influence of Przelewy24, BLIK, and other digital payment providers is empowering millions of Polish consumers and businesses to participate in the digital economy.

4 – Digital wallets in Poland

Digital wallet usage is steadily gaining traction in Poland reflecting a shift to digital payments. According to GlobalData, 51 per cent of Poles prefer using e-wallets as their digital wallet payment method of choice in 2023, up 17 per cent from 2022. A joint survey by eservice and Visa in 2022 revealed that 57 per cent of Polish consumers have used digital wallets for online payments, reflecting growing acceptance and reliance on digital wallets for transactions.

However, barriers remain. A 2022 survey by the Narodowy Bank Polski reported that Polish residents found digital wallets to be the “least easy” payment method for online transactions. Polish consumers also reported that digital wallets were not as widely accepted online as other payment methods. Despite these challenges, the availability of international e-wallets such as PayPal, GooglePay, Skrill and PayU, along with local players like Allegro Pay and YetiPay suggests a promising future for digital wallets in Poland. 

As digital wallet acceptance and ease of use improve, digital wallets will become a dominant payment method, further driving Poland’s digital transformation.

5 – Remittances and cross-border payments

Remittance outflows in Poland reached $10.9 billion in 2022. The National Bank of Poland revealed that Polish workers overseas, mainly in Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Norway, sent home a total of $750 million in Q4 2023 alone. Meanwhile, migrant workers in Poland remitted $500 million in that same period, primarily to Ukraine and Belarus.

In the last few years, the remittance flow has shifted dramatically; Poland is no longer only a remittance beneficiary but has become a country with a significant remittance outflows. According to Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) data, 1.3 million foreigners worked in Poland at the end of October 2023, representing almost 7 per cent of its total workforce. The majority of these workers came from Ukraine (761,000), followed by Belarus (128,000) and Georgia (27,000). Additionally, with the number of workers from Asian countries growing, the number of migrant workers in Poland is poised to increase significantly in the coming years.

6 – Expanding e-commerce

In 2023, Polish consumers spent $22 billion online. This figure is expected to rise to $31 billion over the next four years. This growth indicates that Polish consumers are quickly catching up to their Western European counterparts, with local e-commerce set to account for 20 per cent of all retail sales by 2026.

Business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce is also thriving. With 84 per cent of Polish companies selling their products and services online, B2B e-commerce sales reached $90 billion by the end of 2022. This growth in both B2C and B2B segments highlights the increasing digital integration within Poland’s economy.

According to the statistics agency Eurostat, shoppers in Poland reported the second-fewest problems when shopping online. Just 17 per cent of e-commerce customers submitted complaints of misdelivery or fraud. This is significantly lower compared to European peers  like the Netherlands (56 percent) and Austria (53 percent), demonstrating the efficiency and reliability of Poland’s e-commerce infrastructure.

A bright digital future

The evolution of these sectors along with Poland’s digital growth are positioning Poland as a key destination for fintech companies, investors and their customers. The country’s strategic central location, entrepreneurial spirit and increasing wealth as an EU member provide fertile ground for technological innovation and economic expansion.

Capturing Poland’s shift to digital 

From growing their technology market to expanding digital payments, Poland’s financial institutions are accelerating their digital footprint. They are facilitating greater connectivity to international markets and the growth of Polish businesses, while increasing financial inclusivity.

Thunes plays a pivotal role in Poland’s payments landscape. Our nationwide network enables seamless payments, linking bank accounts, digital wallets and merchants. With Thunes’ Pay and Accept solutions, Polish consumers can easily make real-time cross-border payouts. 

Thunes operates across 130+ countries, supporting 85 currencies and over 550 digital wallets. 

Poland’s commitment to fostering financial innovation has created a favourable environment for businesses and consumers, paving the way for enhanced economic opportunities. 

Contact us to learn how you can leverage payments in Poland to supercharge your business growth.

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