Covid-19 has been a wake-up call for European businesses. Across the continent, no matter the size of the company or complexity of the economy, lockdowns have transformed how Europeans make and receive payments; it is now a much more digital world.
Not everyone was prepared to make this transition. For businesses with a digital transformation plan in place, the time to act was there and then. For those without one, it was sink or swim. In the latter case, this often meant an overnight scrabble to integrate with digital payments pipelines, a task many businesses were not capable of handling in-house.
In March, the pan-European neobank Viva Wallet was uniquely able to help countless businesses to fast track a digital overhaul that began playing out across the continent. With a group of engineers at its core, Viva Wallet provided a nimble response to the sudden demand for a contactless, frictionless payments system across Europe.
This included the rapid deployment of both card acceptance hardware in the form of Android card terminals, as well as software, namely Viva Wallet’s point of sale app for Android. Indeed, through the POS app, Viva Wallet was able to enable the total digitalisation of payments, for even the smallest of businesses that do not even have a physical office. That the Viva Wallet app comes free-of-charge with no monthly fees, as well as the instant ability to use a digital banking card, made it the ideal tool to adopt for businesses as diverse as individual taxi drivers to small legal firms, and it arrived just at the right moment.
“Digital payments emerged as the kiss of life for both small and big companies who suddenly needed even more digital tools and faster onboarding to new digital payment services,” says Haris Karonis, Viva Wallet’s Founder and CEO.
Viva Wallet’s mix of pan-European neobank services and digital state-of-mind made it an ideal candidate for filling the online payments gap that the pandemic so painfully exposed.
Today, Viva Wallet has a footprint in 23 European countries and a network of more than 100,000 merchants. Through Viva Wallet’s “bank in a box” service, merchants can instantly accept international and local card schemes, both at their premises and online, and get a local IBAN account as well as a local BIN business debit card through a single vendor, which makes merchants’ lives easier and costs fully transparent. Not only that, Viva Wallet is offering merchants a true 0 per cent cost for card acceptance if they actively combine the use of both its card acceptance services and the issued business card!
The ability to seamlessly manage local and international payments has become one of the biggest reasons why Viva Wallet reports that its merchant base is experiencing double-digit growth today.
“Being fully localised offers tremendous benefits to merchants in terms of complying with local regulatory requirements,” says Karonis. “The availability of local IBAN accounts also permits expansion to add-on services, such as the availability of merchant cash advance, which will be the next step of our service offering.”
Uniting Europe under one digital payments umbrella
Viva Wallet’s founding mission strikes at the heart of one of the biggest dilemmas facing the European Union today. How can the EU unite a fragmented group of 27 distinct economies with unique cultures, languages and histories?
Indeed, the process of building a frictionless digital payments network has transformed Viva Wallet from a start-up to an international fintech.
Founded as a payment provider in 2011, and with a history as a software house from as early as 2000, Viva Wallet’s story is an odyssey through which the founders began to discover the operational complexities that needed to be overcome in building a digital payments network that worked in markets as distinct as Brussels and London.
“Our biggest challenge was to break the local country payment silos by setting up local physical branches in each country and become an active participant in each local payment system,” recalls Karonis.
“It was a burdensome and costly investment process but, in the end, this offered Viva Wallet the unique advantage of providing a pan-European payments service with fully localised implementations,” he adds.
New EU open banking regulations have helped pave the way for Viva Wallet’s frictionless payments system. But as Karonis and his team found out, the idiosyncrasies of European economies can be far more enduring.
“The SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) and PSD2 regulations, where applicable, reduced the need for multiple integrations and permitted faster country set-up,” says Karonis. “However, local regulations have not followed the same path of alignment in all their payments-related aspects, so there are still considerable barriers to entry for all European countries.”
Still, despite the challenging nature of its task, Viva Wallet continues to project further European expansion this year. Today, Viva Wallet has set up physical branches in 23 European countries and plans to increase those offices to include more.
The continued expansion of such an extensive pan-European payments network would be unfathomable without the company’s all-digital ethos, which has provided the invaluable democratic access to merchants of all sizes that was needed to work across such a diverse payments landscape.
“The main strategy that has facilitated merchant growth is that Viva Wallet’s main service is focused at the state-of-the-art cloud-based infrastructure, as well as to the physical hardware – that is, card-present transactions at card terminals – and e-commerce payments realms by design, without making a distinction between the two,” says Karonis. “This has permitted merchants of all sizes and market segments to adopt Viva Wallet payment services with ease while equally benefiting from digital-only onboarding.”
Since Viva Wallet operates both like a start-up and an international company, its merchants quickly find that they too can operate using the best of both worlds. This includes a digital wallet application programming interface (API) for developers, a corporate expense card programme, and many customisable services, such as the installation of unattended physical payment terminals.
“We have created a scalable state-of-the-art payment infrastructure, built entirely over Microsoft Azure, as well as an innovative card acceptance system, and introducing instantly activated Android card terminals and smartphone card acceptance,” says Makis Antypas, Co-Founder and CIO of Viva Wallet. “This allows for ease of set-up and the use of a complete bundle of payments, all with access to our local branches that are set up under the local regulatory framework, wherever you are located in Europe.”
Taking a step back, it is easy to see that what Viva Wallet has created is a neobank system for merchants that has only just started to make its mark.