Exclusive Interview With the First Albanian Company Nominated in the European FinTech Awards 2017

While the mainstream media bombards finance and tech professionals with announcements from well-known names, the LTP Team reaches out to every corner of the world to speak with gems of FinTech in emerging regions. This time, we had the pleasure of interviewing the CEO of the first Albanian company nominated in the European FinTech Awards 2017 – Linda Shomo, Founder & CEO of EasyPay Albania, the first mobile and online payment provider in Albania with over 320 agents in the network, and 30-40% YoY growth in the number of transactions and volume. We hope you enjoy our conversation with Linda as much as we did.

LTP: Linda, please tell us about yourself.

I am the founder and CEO of EasyPay Albania. I have an experience of 23 years in Information Technology, including 17 years in the financial sector and 10 years in Business Administration. I have a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and a master's degree in Business Administration. I have been managing IT departments for 10 years in different financial institutions such as banks, Western Union Albania, card processors, etc. Since 2010, I’ve been running EasyPay, an electronic money issuer which offers online & mobile payments and money transfers (the first of its kind in Albania). EasyPay’s mission is to bring innovation to the payment sector in Albania. EasyPay has recently partnered with RIA International, the third-biggest money transfer operator worldwide.

Our work in the local market has been acknowledged with various awards, including Best performance company in ICT sector, 2014, Woman of the year in ICT, 2015 and Brilliant Entrepreneur (from the Embassy of Netherlands in Albania).

EasyPay is active on different boards and associations: AITA (Albanian IT Association), ACN (Albanian Consulting Network), NAWE (Network of Albanian Women Entrepreneurs), American Chamber of Commerce, etc.

LTP: Give us a paragraph pitch of your company.

EasyPay is the leading e-wallet solution in Albania. We offer a large portfolio of over 20 local services such as utility payments, mobile top-ups, TV subscriptions, police fines, e-commerce payments, tax payments, e-tickets, online betting, etc., – all in the Albanian local currency. Our customers can make real-time payments for all our services either through the EasyPay mobile app, EasyPay button or through our extensive network of over 320 agents in Albania.

Being the first online and mobile payment provider in Albania, our main target is the unbanked, which make up for 60% of the population, playing a key role in the financial inclusion of the region. Customers who do not have access to banking can easily convert cash to electronic money free of charge at any EasyPay agent, which can then be used at any time for all the payments within the EasyPay platform. Last year, EasyPay entered into an important partnership with RIA Financial, the third-biggest MTO worldwide. As a result, we now provide cheap remittance services to low and middle-income households through the EasyPay network. We have been rapidly growing in the local market, with 30-40% YoY growth in the number of transactions and volume.

LTP: In a sentence or two, what problems are you solving today?

The biggest problem in Albania is informality and the high presence of cash. The digitization of payments would considerably decrease the size of this sector, leading to the development of a formal economy. Seven years ago (when we had just started), the quality of financial services was very basic, all payments were made offline, people would wait in long queues to pay their bills, etc. At that time, m-commerce and m-payments had just started to flourish worldwide, together with the smartphone penetration, so it looked it was the right moment for EasyPay (and the right place) to launch something new and bring some change to the market.

LTP: Who are you selling to?

Thanks to our diversity of services, we target a large audience in Albania. For example, for utility payments or kindergarten fees, our audience is mainly families and households, typically older than 25 years. For festival or other event tickets, driving fines, etc., our audience can even be 18 years old. Regarding tax and utility payments that are higher in values, our customers tend to be even SMEs. We also sell online as a merchant to the Albanian Diaspora that lives abroad as they usually prefer to buy Albanian PayTV subscriptions, which are in high demand from that market segment.

Overall, we have reached the mass market, with an average customer age around 25-45 years old and for now, most of our customers are male. We are focusing on expanding our audience in order to make it as balanced as possible. Our customers come from different economic backgrounds, from low-earning households to high-earning ones and most of them are residents in Tirana.

LTP: How does EasyPay differentiate itself from competitors?

Our key differentiator is the innovation we bring to the market. We have become the first online payment option for many digital services launched in Albania as well as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all the unbanked who need access to the EasyPay service portfolio. EasyPay is the only electronic money issuer in Albania available online, mobile and in 320 agents all over the country. We operate via the latest technology (i.e., chatbot, fingerprint authentication, etc.) and are available on iOS, Android and Windows whereas our competitors are still working with old USSD technology or via traditional payment options (i.e., agent locations & offline payments).

EasyPay offers a large range of services that are inclusive to everyone in society, whereas our competitors mostly operate in one channel only. We have the lowest money transfer rates in the market and are the only socially and financially inclusive one-stop payment solution, both digitally and physically. Our most recent service, real-time local tax payments, is a considerable positive contribution to the government reforms, which are part of the process of Albania becoming an EU member. EasyPay is comprised of a talented young team with people who are passionate about what they do and are keen on driving the digital financial revolution in Albania.

LTP: What is your next milestone for the company?

Our most short-term goal is to win the European FinTech Awards which will take place on September 26 & 27 in Brussels as we recently got selected as one of the top three companies in the Financial Inclusion Category.

Our plans are to expand in the region (most probably in Kosovo and Macedonia, very soon) as well as look for the right partners that would help us enlarge our portfolio of services with cross-border payments.