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Banking Services Growing More Popular
June 30, 2011   
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The number of Poles using bank accounts, online banking services and payment cards has increased significantly in recent years.

Data from the Payment System Department at the National Bank of Poland (NBP) indicates that the number of bank accounts in Poland increased by over 70 percent in less than five years—from 20 million in June 2006 to 34.1 million in December 2010. And that number is still on the rise. From June to December 2010 it rose by 1.2 million, or 3.8 percent.

The growth in the total number of bank accounts eases the problem of financial exclusion, that is a lack of access to financial services. The findings of two independent surveys conducted by the NBP in 2009 show that 77 to 78 percent of Polish people had access to their own or a shared account in a bank or credit union—a much higher figure than in previous years. In 2006 this figure was estimated at 48 percent and in 2007 at 68.4 percent.

The rapid expansion of the Polish market for banking services in the last decade does not change the fact that Poland still lags behind Western European countries in many respects. The number of bank accounts per head of population and the number of transactions conducted using non-cash payment methods are much lower in Poland than the European Union average.

The development of non-cash transactions depends to a large extent on the number of bank accounts in the country because bank accounts are necessary for the use of non-cash payment methods. It is encouraging, however, that the number of accounts per head of population is on the increase in Poland. Data from the Payment System Department at the NBP show that this indicator in Poland was 73.8 percent of the EU average in 2009, up from 72.6 percent of the EU average in 2008. In 2009, the number of accounts per head of population in Poland was 83 percent of the eurozone average, compared to 79 percent in 2008. In the period from 2001 to 2009 there were only slight changes in the EU average—after a drop to 1.24 in 2008 it increased to 1.26 in 2009.

Poland, with 0.93 bank accounts per head of population in 2009, ranked near the bottom in the EU, ahead only of Italy and Spain. However, the indicator was higher than in 2008, when it stood at 0.90.

Malta had the highest number of bank accounts per head—3.98. It was followed by Lithuania, Cyprus, Finland and Greece. A large number of bank accounts does not automatically translate into a high level of use by their owners. An example is Greece, which had one of the highest indicators: 2.79 per head in 2009. At the same time it had one of the lowest numbers of non-cash transactions via payment cards: 14 per head. In comparison, the number of per-capita non-cash transactions in the EU as a whole exceeded 160.

Despite the rapid development of banking services and non-cash payments, there are still people in Poland who have no access to these services, cannot use them or do not want to use them. “There is a group of people in Poland who will never want to use non-cash payments,” says Dominika Maison of the University of Warsaw, the author of a study entitled Polish People’s Attitudes to Non-Cash Transactions commissioned by the NBP. “Analysis shows that this is true of 21.6 percent of the Polish population.” To explain their unwillingness to use non-cash payment methods, these people argue that they need to have contact with other people—for example at a post office, that payment cards are not always accepted, that there is more control over expenditure if cash is used, or that they like having physical money.

The research also indicates that these people are equally opposed to opening a bank account. People who do not have and do not want to have a bank account argue that the costs involved are too high compared to the potential benefits of having an account, that their incomes are too low, that they are not confident in dealing with new technology, or that they do not trust financial institutions. Prof. Maison says these fears may be alleviated through education campaigns, which should be conducted among children, young people and the elderly.

Aware of the significance of the problem, the NBP decided to jointly launch a Program for Non-Cash Development in Poland for 2010-2013. One of its objectives is to ease the problem of financial exclusion. As a result, a plan was drawn up to create a cheap or fee-free bank account for people on very low incomes.

As it turns out, it is not easy either for Polish people to overcome their reluctance to use payment cards. At the end of December 2010, there were 32 million payment cards in circulation on the Polish market. Around 91 percent of bank account owners have a cash card, but only 80 percent actually use it. Some people use it only once a month to withdraw their wages from an ATM.

The popularity of credit cards as a method of non-cash transactions is low. Only 38 percent of Poles have these and only 28 percent actually use them. But the number of credit card holders and users is increasing rapidly and steadily. This indicates that there is a growing awareness of the benefits they offer in managing personal finances. Poles increasingly appreciate the benefits of having round-the-clock access to a revolving consumer credit facility and of being able to carry out convenient and secure non-cash payments, especially abroad. Aware of this trend, banks are trying to meet the expectations of clients halfway and offering them cards on more favorable terms, including the right to independently set the repayment deadline and to take advantage of credit without a fee for a pre-determined period after making a payment.
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