Linda Shomo: Leading the Digital Payment Revolution at Easy Pay Albania

Easy Pay Albania has emerged as a prominent player in the digital payment sector, revolutionizing financial services and promoting financial inclusion in Albania. As the CEO of Easy Pay, Ms. Linda Shomo has played a pivotal role in the company’s success and its commitment to driving innovation and empowering individuals and businesses through digital payments. In this exclusive interview, we delve into Easy Pay’s vision, innovation strategies, and its short-term and long-term visions for 2023. We also explore the company’s impact, the value it brings to the financial landscape, the significance of digital transformation, and the unique experiences it offers to its clients. Join us as we gain insights into the remarkable journey of Easy Pay Albania under the leadership of Linda Shomo.

 

Can you provide an overview of Easy Pay and its journey from inception to becoming a leading player in the digital payment sector in Albania?

The story of EasyPay started as an inevitable need of the country and the Albanian financial system for a comprehensive digital payment platform. There was a time when the words “online payment” were almost unknown to the local population. The idea of ​​this business started from the combination of my personal passion and experience in the financial and banking sectors.

It was the year 2010 when I decided to take the first steps towards realizing my dream, which today has turned into one of the most innovative financial institutions in the country and the leading FinTech company in Albania.

We started our journey as digital distributors of the two biggest companies on the market at that time: Digitalb and Plus Communication. Then, later on in 2015, EasyPay received the license from the Bank of Albania to operate as an Electronic Money Institution and introduced to the market the first payment application in Albania, all developed in house by EasyPay’s talented staff!

Today, a decade later, EasyPay counts +1M. customers, +530 agents, +60 services, +10M transactions, a longstanding partnership with the second biggest money transfer company in the world, Ria Money Transfer, and service coverage throughout Albania with more than 50 employees.

EasyPay has achieved a lot these 12-13 years in the market and has proven that it is an efficient and easily adaptable company with the frequent changes that occur in a market.

What motivated you to start Easy Pay and what challenges did you face during the early stages of the company?

The experience has shown that some of the greatest challenges at that time were: the market’s financial education; the integration with the banking system; and the market informality but meantime we faced other challenges like creating the brand, creating the right  team for this innovative initiative ,etc. Anyway passion and hard work helped us to overcome such challenges time after time.

In what ways has Easy Pay collaborated financial institutions to promote digital payments and expand access to financial services?

EasyPay is an inclusive digital payment platform that allows people to make P2P transactions and payments for a large portfolio of local services, saving time, money and reducing discomfort. By providing safe and inclusive top up alternatives, both the banked and the unbanked can have access to digital financial services and make real-time online/mobile payments. Since the beginning of its activity, EasyPay has partnered with various private and public institutions to make people’s lives easier and to increase the number of services they can benefit from. Specifically, during the first 9 years of its activity in the market, EasyPay was an important digital reseller, meeting the needs of all generations in making payments, who had and / or did not have a bank account. Meanwhile, the year 2020, which also marked EasyPay’s tenth year in the market was a difficult year for everyone, but it brought a lot of challenges and opportunities for digital platforms like us!

The global pandemic caused by Covid-19 accelerated in a few months what EasyPay tried to do in 9 years in the Albanian market: accelerating the adoption of digital payments by consumers and businesses.The pandemic year for us as a digital payment provider was a very positive business year, where we ended with a 40% increase in new customers on the EasyPay app, while the number of transactions on the app more than tripled. This situation had a positive upward trend even during 2021, as a result of a high interest from businesses to adapt their online operations.

On one side, as the number of the customer base and the transactions were increased considerably, on the other side, EasyPay has intensified its partnerships with several microfinance institutions; insurance companies; banks; mobile phone operators, etc. And more on this, the company has been working with a high intensity in the expansion process of its agent network. Nowadays, there are more than 530 EasyPay agents (all MSME that have a B2B partnership with Easypay) throughout the country, offering our platform to the unbanked population, making their transactions safe and secure. 

Could you share some insights into the current state of digital payments in Albania? What trends or developments have you observed in recent years?

EasyPay, together with its team of +50 people, has been studying the market for more than 10 years now and has always developed its services in-house. I am very proud to say that most of the game-changer services in the fintech sector in Albania are created by the talented people of EasyPay, such as:

  • Creation of the online payment platform, for the non-banking institution; 
  • the first Albanian e-wallet;
  • the development of services like Money Transfer from one user EMI to another (PeerToPeer transfer);
  • Payments with a QR Code (hybrid payment services between online and offline).  

With the entry into force of the new payment law (PSD2) in Albania, other competitors have entered the market, which will make the competition of our sector even more beautiful. Until now, the competition has been limited and this has given us endless opportunities, but at the same time also challenges, among which we can highlight:

– Customer education and financial inclusion

– High usage of cash and limited card penetration

– Promotion of e-money in a very cash driven society 

– Lack of willingness to partner between financial instutions

Can you tell us more about the collaboration between EasyPay and Ria Money Transfer, particularly in Italy? How does this partnership benefit Albanian migrants in Italy by providing low-cost money transfers and contribute to financial inclusion for this specific target group?

Every year thousands of people from all over the world change their place of living by moving to another city, country or even continent. Since 1970, the number of international migrants or emigrants has tripled to 281 million, the most recent United Nations estimate of 2021 is nearly four in every hundred people.

This happens for many different reasons being either economic or personal related, such as moving for studies or work and generally for a better future. For the most part, international migration is an economic decision and has maintained a predictable trend: skilled knowledge workers moving from developing economies to high-income, developed countries. This is an ongoing process that has happened, is happening and will continue to happen in the years to come.

As for Albania, we are currently reliving again a new wave of immigration that is being felt quite significantly, especially with the lack of skilled workers in the labor market. According to Friedrich Hebert Stiftung, the majority (76%) leave their home country because of economic reasons, with education, family related and other reasons being the rest. Small businesses and even large corporates are struggling with finding skilled employees while efficiency and growth are being jeopardized.

In the wake of this growing immigration, more Albanian families are depending on incoming remittances from their family members abroad. This is especially present in countries like Italy, Greece, Germany or the UK, where Albanians have mostly decided to move for a better life. However, they are constantly supporting their family members back in Albania, with yearly incoming remittances growing by nearly 10% in year 2022 compared to the year before.

One of the main companies supporting Albanians living abroad is Easypay | Ria Money Transfer. With their services such as international money transfer and over 60 different payment services, they offer a broad portofolio for all kind of everyday payments. Users can pay their utility bills or taxes among other services directly through their App without being physically in Albania, which is very beneficial for Albanians migrants. Furthermore, the partnership with Ria Money Transfer, the second biggest money transfer operator, enables the lowest fees and the fastest transactions in the Albanian market.

Currently, they have a big focus for the Albanians living in Italy, which amount up to 600.000 according to latest sources. The flow of remittances originating from Italy makes up to 25% of the total incoming remittance volume and this reinforces the importance of enabling low cost transactions to this target group. Ria Money Transfer has a big presence in Italy through physical stores (+3000) as well as digital solutions, so that all users can send money back home very easily.

Their latest partnership is being the money transfer sponsor of FC Inter, one of the leading football teams in Italy. Easypay is also supporting all Inter fans in Albania and abroad, by partnering with Inter Club Albania fan club which is also the biggest fan club in the world.

Fans can support their favorite team by joining as an official member of FC Inter, buying the ticket via Easypay, same time also enjoying the exclusive offers of Easypay platform.

This way Easypay&Ria Money Transfer is connecting more and more each day with the Albanian diaspora in Italy (as well as with other countries), trying to create bridges to their home country. This summer we also launched very attractive offers for the service, with fees which go till -40%, aiming to reduce costs of money transfer to Albania, supporting the financial inclusion and facilitating access for a better everyday life.

What is your vision for the future of Easy Pay? Are there any new products, services, or expansion plans on the horizon?

Expansion is an important strategy of our company, in the short and medium run. The expansions we have been working on are related to new services/products, partnerships and of course geographical ones. 

We are already working on some new products that are being prepared to be launched in the next few months. This will include some significant changes in our current Easypay App for individuals and businesses and will streamline the whole registration and payments processes. Moreover, we are including more payment services for the business account so that all SMEs can have the option of doing their payments in very few clicks and saving valuable time. 

As for expansion, we are focusing in expanding our product portfolio with cross border payments and meantime preparing for regional partnerships with other financial institutions in the region. We see this as a good way to start geographical expansion, as there are a lot of opportunities in each of the respective countries and markets for innovative solutions like Easypay. 

 

Author: Besara Kaja, Albania Economia Magazine

 

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