Bank of Albania: In Conversation with Ledia Bregu, Part One

Posted on Feb 24, 2023 by Ledia Bregu, Director of the Payments, Accounting and Finance Department, Bank of Albania

The Feature article in the August 2020 issue of Central Bank Payments News (CBPN) was authored by the Bank of Albania’s Ledia Bregu, Director of the Payments, Accounting and Finance Department. At the time, Albania was less than half-way through its National Retail Payments Strategy, 2018–2023, an ambitious document that sought to expand financial inclusion and further the adoption of electronic payments, two areas in which Albania ranked among the lowest in the Western Balkans and throughout all of Europe.

As the Strategy’s five-year timeframe concludes this year, CBPN checked in with the Bank of Albania for a payments update. In the first of a two-part interview, Bregu discusses progress on the Strategy’s implementation, financial inclusion gains, regulatory initiatives by the Bank of Albania, and much more.

Central Bank Payments News (CBPN): The Bank of Albania’s (BoA) National Retail Payments Strategy, 2018–2023 had two primary objectives: 1) Increase adult account ownership to 70 percent and 2) Increase cashless transactions to 10 per capita per year. Where do things stand currently as we enter this final year of the five-year Strategy?

Ledia Bregu (LB): The Bank of Albania’s efforts in implementing the objectives of the National Retail Payments Strategy, 2018–2023 intensified over the last few years. Together with market players and public institutions, we were able to meet the Strategy’s two overarching objectives ahead of schedule. E-Payments in Albania in 2016 were 4.3 per capita, and the Strategy set an objective of 10 e-payments per capita by 2023. At the end of 2022, however, electronic payments reached 17.9 per capita, an increase of more than 300 percent in only six years. Meanwhile, positive developments affected account ownership and financial access, with 69 percent of the adult population owning at least one payment account by the end of 2021, approaching the 70 percent objective for 2023 outlined in the strategy.

Elsewhere, the number of retail transactions cleared in the Albanian Electronic Clearing House (AECH) continued to increase, rising 26.4 percent from the previous year in 2021 and another 23.4 percent in 2022. Such continuous increases reflect the efficiency of the measures taken in 2020 [1] by the Bank of Albania on commissions applied by banks to its clients that focused on differentiating electronic payments from paper-based ones, targeting a “heavier” use of this system for retail e-payments that reduce informality, i.e., cash-based transactions. As a result, retail payments up to ALL (Albanian lek) 20,000 have seen a rapid increase of more than double from 2019, reflecting a wide acceptance from the public.

Analysis of payment instruments’ usage shows that since 2021 card payments are the most used payment instrument in Albania, surpassing paper-based transfers, which have dominated the payments landscape for years. As per network and access points, the number of POS terminals has increased 122 percent since 2017.

Considering the baseline of the two strategic objectives in 2016—40 percent adult account ownership and 4.3 cashless transactions per capita—we believe that such increases and achievements are important contributions to Albania’s payments ecosystem, directly affecting ...

[1] The regulatory amendments in 2020 waive all commissions on retail payments initiated electronically through home banking services for transactions with a value up to ALL 20,000 and the reduction of commission by 50 percent for all transactions initiated electronically with a value larger than ALL 20,000.

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