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Capital.bg: tbi bank launched its mobile app without fees and provoked strong interest

The launch of our fee-free banking app in Bulgaria sparked the interest of the ledaing business media in the country – Capital.bg. Read the article dedicated to our one-of-a-kind offer below:

The bank also enters into direct competition with fintech companies, offering payments in instalments, as well as cash bonuses for new users

  • According to the bank’s management, everyday banking should be free.
  • Competition between digital banking products in Bulgaria is growing.
  • This is good for customers of digital financial services, the number of which is already several million.

 

When fintech companies with their low-cost or even free operations apps hit a few years ago, banks looked and behaved a bit like dinosaurs. And many foretold them a similar fate.

The change was really fast and even in not so digital Bulgaria many users quickly got used to being able to save time, nerves and costs from visiting a branch. Banks themselves have been developing online platforms and mobile apps for years, though not so much with the idea of revolutionizing but rather optimizing their costs by reducing office visits and cash operations. Their strategy is not to reduce the fees for digital services, but to increase those for physical ones, as with a standard transfer, for example, the difference is many times – from about BGN 1 up to 4-6 BGN.

Although there are no official statistics on users of mobile banking services in Bulgaria, even a rough account of data from individual institutions and studies suggests that they are already measured in seven digits, their number is growing, as well as the services used. And, of course, bankers are ripening quite quickly for the idea that mobile apps are becoming one of their main competitive weapons.

No fees, but with interest on the account

Now one of the smaller but innovative Bulgarian banks decides to use it, and quite aggressively – its offer looks like a battle to win not only to bite off a share of the customers of its competitors, but also those of the fintech companies.

In mid-January, tbi bank, which defines itself as challenger bank (see box), launched its updated mobile banking application, which has new functionalities and is offered entirely free of fees and commissions for all its services – from current accounts in BGN and EUR and transfers in them in the country and abroad, a debit card (Visa neon) without issuance and maintenance fees. two free ATM withdrawals per month (up to 800 BGN, then according to the tariff) until payment of utility bills.

Moreover, the bank offers interest on the current account – from 2.1% for amounts up to BGN 2000 and above them over BGN 2000 0.15%, or up to the ceiling of guaranteed deposits. “Everyday banking operations should make people’s lives easier, so we believe they should be free” Peter Baron, CEO of tbi, told Capital.

In addition, tbi bank is part of Blink, which allows instant transfers up to BGN 30 000  to the other members of BORICA’s payment system (DSK Bank, UniCredit Bulbank, FIB, UBB, Postbank, MyFin and TransCard), and through Sepa Instant this happens in 36 countries in Europe.

What is missing for the full functionality of tbi bank’s mobile banking is for now compatibility with Google and Apple digital wallets, which does not allow contactless payment by phone, as well as a virtual bank card. “Soon, our customers will have the option to pay neon with their debit card via Google Pay and Apple Pay. We are also exploring the possibility of introducing virtual cards, but for now the biggest priority for us is the integration of our debit card into digital wallets,” Baron said.

In addition to removing the fees, the bank also comes up with some offers, which are more typical for fintech companies than for traditional banking institutions.

One of them is a BNPL (Buy now pay later) service. With the app and the neon card purchase of goods between 40 BGN and 5000 BGN could be split and paid in three monthly installments with 0% fees, as well as for 6 or 12 months, but with a fee. This is done after prior approval for a shopping limit. The app also offers a “digital piggy bank”, loan services, etc. What’s more is that tbi bank gives a bonus of BGN 20 for each new customer after their first transaction, but there is no cashback on the cards.

[quoteblock content=”Everyday banking operations should make people’s lives easier, so we believe they should be free” author=”Petr Baron” author_position=”CEO of tbi fs, Founder-In-Residence” author_avatar=”https://tbibank.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/PETR-1.png” section_id=””][/quoteblock]

For about two weeks, tbi bank’s app is clearly causing interest – according to the bank, the number of new users has doubled, and card requests have increased 6 times, with 132 000 users. This is probably helped by the advertising campaign.

Is the cheap expensive?

The launch of a fee-free banking app raised the question of whether this would shift to tbi bank’s fees and interest on loans and other services. Moreover, over the years with very low interest rates, banks have raised fees to compensate for the decline in their lending income. “We don’t plan to increase the cost of other services, that’s not our goal. Rather, we offer customers a free service compared to other banks, which does not cost us much,” commented Peter Baron.

tbi bank really has a more atypical model for the Bulgarian market – a focus entirely on relatively riskier, but also with higher interest rates consumer loans, which allows it to operate with the highest margins and profitability indicators on the market. Although it is of the average market size, it ended 2022 with BGN 126 million profit – the same as some banks in the top 5 by assets. And its return on capital is 37% compared to an average of 12% for the system, so the bank could subsidize this product in order to seize a stake.

Without having a visible connection between the two events, UBB and KBC Bank announced a few days ago that as of January 24th they reduce their mobile banking fees by 10% for all their individual clients for 12 months. In its mobile app UBB also offers non-bank services such as insurance, investment funds and the purchase of vignettes. In addition, several banks (Postbank, Investbank) are developing their mobile banking with the possibility of using them with cards from other institutions.

Competition and attractive offers in the banking sector are always welcome. Moreover, in digital services, it can be expected that other banks will move in such a direction.

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