More than 300 entrepreneurs and representatives of small and medium enterprises joined the now traditional conference Postbank Meets the Business, which took place in Grand Hotel Sofia. Dimitar Shumarov, Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of Postbank, and Rumiana Ivanova, head of the Small Business Banking division, presented the bank's participation in national and European programmes for small business stimulation, as well as the products and services Postbank offers in support of the business, as they focused on the bank's data for the sector and the solutions for its funding.
The leading economist Lachezar Bogdanov of the Institute for Market Economics introduced to the guests the latest economic trends and opportunities for business development in Bulgaria. Tania Genova, Business Development Manager, and Nayden Marechkov, Product Development Director in Mastercard, presented data relating to the card payments market and the latest innovative solutions that the business is already using.
"It is always nice and rewarding to see so many people who pursue their dreams, and achieve much in the business with dedication and positive charge, people who create by making the most of the environment, the experience and the knowledge that they have gained. Most of you have already realized that now is the time to achieve more, to stand out and be successful, but most importantly to be persistent in what you do, and every year to build up on what you have achieved the previous year. We, as bank, too, become bigger. We are on the verge of an operational merger with Piraeus Bank. There are clients and colleagues in the hall from both banks, and we are about to begin working together, as a team, and become even stronger. Certainly, this is another opportunity for you, and even more so for us. Postbank will continue supporting the small business in the country and your plans too. We are trying to be as flexible as possible to your needs, to offer customized financial solutions, in order to be even more useful to you," Dimitar Shumarov commented.
In an open discussion the bank representatives consulted the participants in the meeting on the processes of corporate funding, and advised them on the successful implementation of the investment projects.
"It is very important for us, at Postbank, to be close to the business. As a trusted partner of the business, we have constantly developed our branch network over the year. Currently, we have over 170 branches, including 21 specialized Small Business Banking centres, in which 140 of our experts consult the entrepreneurs," Rumiana Ivanova, head of Postbank's Small Business Banking division, said.
In her speech, she added that the bank was managing a large portfolio of business customers who have trusted the financial institution, as the division registered more than 18 percent growth of new loan applications from the business since the start of the year. The bank's main goal continues to be to support the business, as it has done before. "Postbank offers a full range of product solutions that are tailored to each business individually – from the standard, working and investment capital, to lease products, factoring, bank guarantees, as well as bundled products for the various sectors. We are working with the funding programmes as well – guarantee schemes of the European Investment Fund and the National Guarantee Fund, which makes the financial institution even more flexible in the offering of loan products for the business," Rumiana Ivanova told the guests.
As a guest speaker, Lachezar Bogdanov reviewed the latest trends in the development of the global, European and national economies, and presented to the guests an up-to-date macroeconomic analysis of the state of the Bulgarian economy. Some of the highlights were the dynamic of Bulgaria's foreign trade, including the export of goods and services, which registered a steady growth in 2018 – electrical equipment, fuel, machinery and copper. According to him, the main drive for the economic growth should be the investments in fixed capital, which were 18.8 percent in 2018.
"At the same time, we have registered a record-high employment rate of 75.7 percent for 2019 of working people aged between 20 and 64 years. However, the "aging" workforce trend has remained. In 2018, 21 percent of the people aged 55+ were employed, 53 percent of the workforce was aged 35 to 54 years, as the percentage of young people compared to the previous years has declined to barely 26 percent. It is important to increase the number of employed students aged 16 to 18 years, as there is a change in demand for employees in some of the sectors," the economist stressed in his presentation.
Lachezar Bogdanov's report emphasized that the highest demand for experts was observed in the IT sector and the outsourcing (up by 35,000), and in the electronics and automobile sectors (up by 18,000), compared to the negative demand of personnel in the once strong sectors, such as the construction and textile industries. The households' income is growing, the lending is increasing; we have observed increase of BGN 2 billion debt from a new loan compared to a year earlier, and the loan servicing has a record-low burden on the income, as Bulgaria is among the countries with the lowest indebtedness, he added.
The data discussed at the conference further revealed that the construction permissions issued in Sofia in the first nine months of 2019 increased – an indicator for the expected investments in new accommodations – we have observed four-fold growth in residential buildings and a little over two-fold growth in the administrative buildings, but compared to the other countries, the construction activities in Bulgaria are not high.
The Mastercard experts stressed that the annual growth rate of the card payment market in the last four years was 32 percent, and that of POS terminals was 18 percent for the same period. Currently, the number of POS terminals in Bulgaria continues to grow compared to that of the ATMs, which has been relatively constant. In the beginning of 2018, for the first time the number of transactions that went through POS terminals, compared to those through ATMs, was higher, that is, the clients are already beginning to recognize the convenience, speed and security of card payments.
Mastercard MasterIndex's annual survey showed that 98 percent of the respondents had debit cards, as 39 percent of them use the cards on a daily basis. The share of credit card holders is 39.5 percent. The prepaid cards still hold a very small share. Most often, the people use their cards to make payments in the fast moving consumer goods sector (62 percent). The second most frequent card payment is that in gas stations (47 percent), followed by payments in the various clothing and shoe stores (26 percent). The survey also showed where the customers would like to pay by card, but that has not been made available everywhere yet – courier services, deliveries, convenience stores, public institutions, taxis, restaurants, bars, hospitals, and others. Mastercard adds that 70 percent of the small and medium business in Bulgaria still does not accept card payments, compared to 30 percent share which have realized its convenience and have accepted them. The most card payments have been made in Sofia and the major cities, and their share is much lower in the smaller residential areas. There has been development in the mobile POS terminals as well.