Unchain Fintech Festival: the Davos summit for digital banking in the CEE region

Cosmin Cosma, co-founder of Unchain Fintech Festival, on the stage of the event. Foto: Startups&TheCity

The Unchain Fintech Festival‘s 2023 edition which took place in Oradea’s fortress, located in NW Romania, was hailed as the Davos summit for digital banking in the CEE region by its organizers and received great acclaim from the attendees. Taking place between 29-30 June, the event drew over 450 esteemed finance professionals who engaged in a two-day business marathon filled with fintech panels, networking opportunities, startup presentations, lively parties, and a plethora of other activities.

“The event is like a dream come true, as it was my dream to have a Central Eastern European forum, like a festival, where innovation springs out and all the people collaborate and discuss what’s next in FinTech in CEE. And my next dream is to establish it like the Davos summit for digital banking in the CEE region”, declared Cosmin Cosma, co-founder of Unchain Fintech Festival and CEO and co-founder of Finqware.

The event took place shortly after the European Commission introduced four regulatory packages that will have a significant impact on the banking sector in Europe in the coming years. These packages include the Open Finance Initiative, the PSD3 proposal, the green finance proposal, and the digital Euro. Consequently, discussions revolved around topics such as open finance, open banking, digital Euro, and CBDCs.

A prevalent viewpoint centered around digitalization, with certain banks expressing their ability to enhance digitalization. However, concerns were raised about potentially alienating individuals who have yet to fully embrace digital banking. Consequently, these banks are somehow slowing down the pace of digitalization to cater to all audiences, including those who have not fully transitioned to digital platforms. Similar sentiments were shared regarding CBDCs, with questions raised about the timeline for their implementation. Some central banks acknowledged the need for education and widespread adoption to achieve the desired outcomes.

Nevertheless, banks have undergone a significant transformation, shifting their focus towards prioritizing user experience and leveraging technology. This shift has propelled them to adopt a more akin approach to tech companies, continuously developing advanced solutions to enhance client satisfaction. In this process, banks have faced the challenge of effectively managing the delicate balance between compliance requirements and ensuring a seamless digital customer journey.

While last year witnessed fervent discussions around cryptocurrencies and widespread interest in them, this year the conversations surrounding cryptocurrencies were more subdued. However, a clear trend emerged indicating the rapid acceleration of mobile banking. Although people still rely on traditional payment methods such as plastic cards, there is an increasing shift towards mobile devices and wearable technology. Contactless payments have already become the norm, and the transition from cards to mobile devices is expected to occur swiftly. Additionally, the desire for instant gratification among consumers is driving the demand for instant payments and refunds

Regarding blockchain technology, there is now a broader range of applications being explored. Although blockchain has often been associated with cryptocurrencies, its potential extends beyond that. One notable use case is cross-border payments between companies, particularly in the context of the booming e-commerce industry. The convergence of face-to-face and online commerce has already been observed, but there are still numerous untapped use cases yet to emerge.

Fintech Stage in the CEE. Foto: Startups&TheCity

Within the field of financial technology, specialists identify two prominent trends. Firstly, there is a focus on B2B FinTech, where companies provide technology-based financial services to banks and financial institutions. This sector currently garners significant attention from investors and the industry, as it offers enhanced efficiency and additional services. Secondly, specialists foresee substantial potential for B2C FinTech in underbanked and underserved regions of the world, particularly in Africa, where accessing banking services and facilitating payments is challenging.

Banks and FinTechs are commonly perceived as competition, which holds true to a certain extent. However, it is essential to recognize the potential for collaboration and synergistic partnerships between banks and fintech companies. This collaboration can significantly enhance the ability to swiftly deliver enhanced services to customers, thereby creating a mutually beneficial environment.

“I think the first and the most fundamental thing is that banks and fintechs understand one crucial rule and this is that if you look at the overall revenues which are in the financial market, banks and fintechs are not fighting for the same amount of revenues, if there is a cooperation between bank and fintechs, the total revenues of services delivered on the market can grow. That means that if there is fruitful cooperation, then the total share of services on the market grows, the revenue grows and the client satisfaction grows, so it’s not fighting for the same resources, it’s enlarging what’s on the table for the whole financial market.”, said Martin Marek, Unicorn Attacks Co-Owner and Seed Starter Venture Capital Founder.

“In our case, for example, we’ve onboarded several fintechs in our applications, and not just in the wallet mobile application that we are delivering to the customers but also as layers towards the delivery of other services. We do need to improve every single day the experience that we deliver to our customers”, added Oana Ilas, Deputy CEO, Head of Retail Banking, Banca Transilvania, Romania.

The recognition for the Digital Bank of the Year in CEE went to Tatra Banka from Slovakia, for their exceptional commitment and ongoing activity in supporting digitalization and providing convenient digital banking experiences. Specifically, for having the highest penetration of mobile payments in F2F transactions in CEE and for taking the initiative to distribute NFTs to their staff.

Regarding the startup competition, the judges were impressed by the participation of teams from across Europe. These startups had already made considerable progress, demonstrating maturity, client experience, revenue generation, and extensive business expertise. The judges greatly appreciated these attributes, as they showcased the startups’ profound understanding of their respective domains. The selected winner of the competition was chosen Synapze GmbH, an end-to-end automation platform for the financial services industry which makes decision-making efficient with the power of AI.

The organizers of the Unchain Festival are bound to create the next year’s event with the same consistent mission of growing fintech in CEE and putting in motion the right wheels to generate innovation. Bringing leaders, doers and visionaries together in the right setup is the key to further accelerating the region`s potential for stellar fintech products.

“Unchain Fintech Festival is an excellent space to connect with industry leaders, share insights, and explore the latest trends and advancements that are shaping the future of payments. Visa is a longstanding champion of the fintech sector, playing an instrumental role in shaping the fintech environment that we know today. We work with fintech of all shapes and sizes to understand the challenges and opportunities they face, and provide the bespoke guidance and tools they need to scale and develop the next generation of seamless payment experiences that can benefit thousands of businesses and billions of consumers. Our “open” approach, means Visa partners can take advantage of our technology and security to constantly innovate and access best-in-class innovation”, stated Catalin Cretu, General Manager, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia, Visa.

Founder, editor in chief of Startups&TheCity.